AR   2020-01-20
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Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow


Sir Roger Scruton
Sir Roger Scruton


2020 January 20

Lord Defy Government

BBC News, 2014 UTC

HM Government has lost three votes in the House of Lords over its Brexit legislation:
1 Peers passed an amendment to give EU citizens in the UK the automatic right to stay and ensure
    they can get physical proof of their rights by 270 votes to 229.
2 Peers rejected a proposal to set aside European Court of Justice judgements by 241 votes to 205.
3 Peers rejected a proposal to protect UK courts from EU case law after Brexit by 206 votes to 186.
Ministers will aim to reverse the changes when the bill returns to the Commons.


British Drama

The Times

 Hard MegxitClare Foges
No royal titles, no HRH, no public funding, no have cake and eat it, no half in and half out. The Queen insisted that the issue be thrashed out in days, not weeks. The royal family is not about its individual members. For a nation to feel like a coherent entity it needs its pomp and ceremony.

 Low TrustEd Williams
Britain is a country suffering a crisis of confidence. Politicians lie. Business is self-interested. CEOs get rich as staff lose jobs. Leaders create fear for political gain. National institutions fail the people. Trust in institutions to do the right thing is lower in Britain today than in anywhere but Russia.

 Race BigotryLibby Purves
The flight of the Sussexes from royal duty may prompt Britons to examine the terrible national dialog about racism. The Meghan coverage was mainly either fawning or snarky. The sickness lay in a determination to be offended. A squeamish discussion of racism soured into nonsense.

2020 January 19

A Very Stable Genius

Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig

Two Pulitzer Prize winners provide the definitive insider narrative of Donald Trump's unique presidency. Their narrative reveals President Trump at his most unvarnished and exposes how decision making in his administration is driven by self-preservation and self-aggrandizement.


Europe Looks Weak

The Observer

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "The EU needs to be more strategic, more assertive, and more united .. We must use our diplomatic and economic strength to support global stability and prosperity [and] export our values and standards."
Donald Trump ignored his EU allies when he assassinated Qassim Soleimani. When he blew up the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, he insisted that the EU3 trigger the deal's dispute mechanism and threatened to impose 25% tariffs on European car imports.
Europe is punching well below its weight.


No Deal XO

Mail on Sunday

The Whitehall EU Exit Operations committee (XO) chaired by cabinet minister Michael Gove is preparing for a "disorderly December" 2020.
Sajid Javid: "There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule-taker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union and we will do this by the end of the year."
Dominic Cummings: "[The EU] has failed to grasp their judges will have no power and we are not interested in level playing fields .. We are not bluffing on the no extension."

AR HMS Brexitannia is sailing from EUSSR to Trumpland with XO Gove at the helm.

2020 January 18


Matthew Parris

The time is ripe to think about the unification of Ireland. A recent poll in NI gave a 51% to 49% win for unification. Only the over-65s showed a clear majority against. The younger the respondents, the more they opted for unification.
After Brexit, the GB economic habitat will begin to diverge from NI, which will remain aligned with the EU. Four years ago a poll in the Republic found a third of voters favoured unification. Last summer two thirds did. Moderates see the case for unity.
NI has been a test case for UK regional policy and failed. At around £12 billion net per year, NI costs UK taxpayers more than membership of the EU. Merging NI with the Republic will be painful, but it can be done.

AR Devolve NI to the Republic and dissolve GB in the EU/US.

2020 January 17

Trump Impeachment Trial

The New York Times

The Senate formally opened the impeachment trial of President Trump on Thursday. Senators swore to deliver "impartial justice" and installed Chief Justice John Roberts to preside over the proceeding. Roberts vowed to act "according to the Constitution and the laws" and administered the same oath of impartiality to the senators.


Big Ben Bong Battle

The Telegraph

Thee battle for Big Ben to bong on Brexit night has descended into farce. After Boris Johnson called on the public to "bung a bob" for Big Ben to sound the moment Britain leaves the EU, more than £150,000 was raised on a crowdfunding site. But the House of Commons Commission says the money cannot be used due to parliamentary rules on financial donations.

AR Damn good thing too. A BBB for Brexit is a vulgar and insulting idea. They might as well go the whole hog and schedule a fly-by from the RAF Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight — plus a military parade along the Mall and a mass hoist of union jacks around the nation.

2020 January 16

Putin and Xi


Russian president Vladimir Putin has rearranged his government, apparently in order to stay in power for the foreseeable future. He may have been looking across to China, where his close ally Xi Jinping made the same power grab in 2018. Since Xi cleared the way to serve for life, the Chinese Communist Party has closed ranks around him and given him more titles, including one previously only held by Mao Zedong, that of people's leader.

2020 January 15


Philip Goff

Panpsychists say consciousness pervades the universe. As we move to simpler forms of life, we find simpler forms of consciousness. The basic constituents of reality have the simplest.
Perhaps, at some point, the light switches off, and consciousness disappears. But perhaps the continuum of consciousness fades while never quite turning off. This is what panpsychists believe.
There is a deep mystery in how what we know from the inside fits with what science tells us from the outside. The panpsychist says there is a huge hole in our scientific story and puts consciousness in that hole. Consciousness is the intrinsic nature of matter.
Physical science describes matter from the outside. A neuroscientist asks about your consciousness while scanning your brain and correlate kinds of brain activity with various experiences.
We need both science and philosophy to get a theory of consciousness. Science gives us correlations. Philosophy explains them. In my view, the best explanation is panpsychism.


Computing Neurons


Networks of brain neurons can theoretically perform any computation. New research shifts the focus to individual neurons.
The thousands of inputs flowing into a given neuron land in different locations along its various dendrites. Individual dendrites can function differently from one another. Compartments in the dendritic arms of cortical neurons can each perform logic operations.
The dendrites generate local spikes, have their own nonlinear input-output curves, and have their own activation thresholds. They can act as AND gates.
Researchers obtained slices of brain tissue from layers 2 and 3 of the human cortex, which contain large neurons with many dendrites, and stimulated those dendrites with an electrical current. They saw repeated rapid and brief spiking. The spikes were like action potentials and arose from fluxes of calcium ions, not sodium or potassium ions.
A dendrite can spike in response to two separate inputs but not when those inputs are combined. This is equivalent to an XOR gate. Two dendrites together can compute XOR, and we see a plausible biophysical mechanism to do so in a single dendrite.
We need to rethink how we model the brain. It seems a single neuron can be a complex computational device.

Science reference

2020 January 14

Living Robots

The Guardian and The Evening Standard

Researchers have created the first living machines by assembling stem cells from frogs into tiny robots that can swim around freely.
Tufts University Allen Discovery Center director Michael Levin: "These are entirely new lifeforms. They have never before existed on Earth. They are living, programmable organisms."
The xenobots are designed by an evolutionary algorithm running on a supercomputer. They have frog genomes, are about 1 mm in size, and live for a week or so. In future they could swim around inside human bodies on medical missions or swim free to gather microplastic in the oceans.
Levin: "The aim is to understand the software of life."
The work was funded by DARPA and published in PNAS.


Roger Scruton

Melanie Phillips

Sir Roger Scruton was Britain's greatest contemporary philosopher. The author of more than 50 books, he wrote about Kant and Wittgenstein, beauty and music, architecture and sexual desire, fox-hunting and piety, art and the rural idyll.
Sir Roger articulated and championed the deep connections between conservatism, the English countryside and national identity. He recognised that without a shared home and culture based on the inherited values, customs and laws of a nation state there can be no sense of "we" — conservatism was about the defence of collective memory and freedom.
In his 2014 book How to Be a Conservative, he recalled his astonishment when, witnessing the 1968 student riots in Paris, he realised that these radicals wanted to destroy freedom in pursuit of Marxism. He concluded that the political alternative was conservatism. But when he started teaching at London university, he discovered that all his colleagues opposed conservatism.
As the years went on, the totalitarian characteristics he had helped battle in eastern Europe surfaced in Britain under a different guise. The universities started openly suppressing ideas.

AR I was personally acquainted with Scruton when I was a student and he was a young lecturer, when he seemed too archly Tory to me. Since then, after reading the works of the philosopher Hegel, I have warmed to Scruton's brand of Conservatism.

2020 January 13

Academic Apocalypse

Ross Douthat

The humanities are collapsing. This is a new form of secularization. Once consecrated in place of Christianity, high culture is now experiencing its own crisis of belief as outside forces kill student interest in the humanities and cultural interest in high culture.
Recovery depends on more than a belief in truth and beauty. Either the humanities offer judgment on what is worth reading or humanists only teach procedures and habits of mind. Escaping that dichotomy alone will not restore the academic world.


Brexit Bill

Graham Vanbergen

The 2019 version of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill included a clause to protect MP involvement in Brexit. The 2020 WAB shuts MPs out of the negotiations: They will have no oversight over the negotiating goals or objectives, no right to be kept updated on progress, and no vote on any final deal with Brussels. The new WAB is a Trojan horse for hard Brexit at the end of 2020.


Convoluted Computation


Convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are good at learning patterns in 2D images. Gauge CNNs can detect patterns in 3D global climate data and on bumpy objects for robot vision and medical scans.
Physical theories often feature gauge covariance. Physical quantities are independent of frames of reference (gauges) or moving observers. Measurements convert to preserve the physics. Gauge CNNs do the same for data.
Convolution lets a layer of the CNN do an operation on small patches of the input data and pass the results to the next layer in the network. A CNN slides windows over the data like filters, with each one detecting a certain pattern.
In the case of a cat photo, a CNN trained to recognize cats uses filters that detect edges, which are passed up to other layers in the network, which do further convolutions to extract features like eyes or tails. The CNN can then label the image.
Doing a convolution on a curved surface (a manifold) is tricky because it distorts a flat window. A sliding window like a circular spiderweb avoids distortion, which lets a CNN work better and learn faster.
By 2018, CNNs could detect rotated or reflected features in flat images without training on them. Spherical CNNs could create feature maps from data on a 3D sphere without distortion.
Global climate data maps onto a 3D sphere. In 2017, a CNN trained to detect extreme weather patterns detected cyclones with 74% accuracy. In 2019, a gauge CNN did so with 98% accuracy.

AR Convoluted stuff.


My local seafront around noon, Sunday

Daily Mail

22 days

⦿ Jens Jeske
German defence minister
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
faces attacks on her dress


2020 January 12

The Don

Niall Ferguson

According to CBS, Donald Trump's top three favourite movies are Bloodsport, Goodfellas, and
The Godfather. The Corleone doctrine is no joke, yet there may be worse figures to imitate than Vito Corleone. For who could be Michael, read Donald Trump Jr's bestseller Triggered.



The Independent

A poll held 8-10 January finds that UK voters are split by margin of 52% to 48% in favor of Remain. Most responders expect Brexit to be bad for the economy, the NHS, and the UK's unity and standing. Only 11% backed a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020.

2020 January 11

Royal Soap Opera

Jonathan Freedland

If you think remain is a lost cause, you should try republicanism. Anyone who ever believed the Windsors might be easily prised from the public imagination, that Britons would be relaxed about dumping the royal family in favour of an elected head of state, has surely been divested of that delusion this week.
All this represents a double warning to advocates of a republic. First, after Brexit, the last thing anyone will want is a debate on more constitutional upheaval. Second, once the UK has left the EU, Britons will hold even tighter to those things that are uniquely or peculiarly British.

AR The Daily Mail yesterday devoted its first 16 pages to royal trivia.

2020 January 10

Iran Tragedy

The Guardian

The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 that crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday was apparently shot down by an Iranian missile strike: Intelligence assessments suggest two SAMs hit the aircraft, killing all 176 people onboard.

AR Blame Trump for raising tensions with his drone strike.


UK Breakup

David Edgerton

On Thursday, the EU withdrawal agreement bill passed its third reading in the Commons by 330 votes to 231. Soon it will be signed into law. The UK will leave the EU on January 31.
Brexit will impose a border between Northern Ireland and Britain for the first time in modern history. The policy is a betrayal of the Ulster unionists. Putting Northern Ireland into the same regulatory system as the Republic of Ireland puts a reunited Ireland firmly back in view.
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party holds 48 of Scotland's 59 seats in Westminster. In 2016, a large majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has requested that the Scottish parliament be given powers to hold an independence referendum.
After Scotland and Northern Ireland, England and Wales could break up under pressure from Welsh nationalists. The breakup of the union may be one of the few good things to come out of Brexit.
Even England would benefit. Freed from the grip of the decayed British state, England could finally be done with its delusions of grandeur. It may have to give up its seat on the UN Security Council and its nuclear weapons. It may decide to rejoin the EU.
The UK is neither ancient nor stable. Before 1945, its four national identities were part of an imperial identity. A commonwealth of nations including India and the dominions and colonies made up the British Empire. It was the empire that fought WW2, not the UK. The postwar UK was broken up economically by globalization and deepening economic integration with Europe.
Decaying British nationalism led to Brexit. Leavers imagined independence would make the UK great again, but that was old thinking. Young people in England overwhelmingly want to be in the EU. They seek liberation not from Brussels but from the grip of Westminster and Whitehall.

AR Good: England can make a fresh start in Europe.

2020 January 9

Trump and Iran

Thomas L. Friedman

President Trump and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are two bald men fighting over a comb. Trump may think he can out-crazy the Iranians, but he will be constrained by US institutions. Iran can still "Carterize" Trump in a Mideast mess.


Europe and Brexit

Financial Times

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen came to London to a pledge to "work day and night" on forging a close relationship with Fortress UK:
1 The negotiations will be dominated by disagreements over what policy commitments the UK is
    willing to make in exchange for market access.
    UvdL: "Without a level playing field on environment, labour, taxation and state aid, you cannot
    have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market."
2 It will be impossible to negotiate a complete deal and have it ratified by the end of this year.
3 A future relationship based on a trade deal will mean a hard border between the EU and the UK.
    UvdL: "Nothing will be as it was before."

2020 January 8


The New York Times

Trump tweet: "All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good!"


Battle of the Brats

Arwa Mahdawi

The bearded halfwit known as Donald Trump Jr and his little sister Ivanka, patron saint of hypocrites, are rivals to succeed their father and turn the Trump presidency into a dynasty. A recent survey shows Ivanka and Trump Jr are favorites for the 2024 presidential nomination among Republican voters: 29% of GOP supporters want Lil' Don, 16% are rooting for the first daughter.



The Times

UK PM Boris Johnson warns his cabinet it is "time for the slaughtering of sacred cows" as he vows to cull the pet projects of his predecessors.


Battle of the Budget

Financial Times

PM adviser Dominic Cummings threatens to shake up the Ministry of Defence. A strategic defence review must set out where UK national interests lie and how they fit in to UK membership of NATO.
UK military ambitions are still laced with nostalgia for past glory. The UK is no pocket superpower, capable of dominance in every field from nuclear submarines to infantry power. It does not have the resources.
The two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers cost £6.2 billion and were delivered years late. HM Government cannot afford to buy 138 F-35 fighter jets for them. The navy urgently needs more frigates and destroyers to defend shipping, not symbolic aircraft carriers. The carriers could deploy US or French planes.
Cummings wants to shift investment to cyber security, drones, and space. But the UK will still need aircraft, tanks, and ships. The nuclear deterrent renewal program Dreadnought is vital to national security. Procurement must become more efficient.
Alliances are part of the future for a post-Brexit Britain — with Europe and with a maverick US president.


Did Venus Strip Mercury?

New Scientist

Mercury may have been stripped by Venus in the early days of the solar system. A series of close passes between the two planets when they were young could have removed Mercury's outer layers, leaving behind a planet that is mostly dense core. Mercury's iron core makes up 70% of its mass, so something must have stripped away its mantle.
Perhaps young Mercury underwent a collision that melted its outer layers, but simulations show it may have been a series of near misses instead. If young Mercury was spinning in the right way, its mantle could have been removed by just four close encounters with young Venus. Mercury is roughly 10% the mass of Venus, and its mantle just a fraction of the whole mass, so the material would be hard to find on Venus.


Will We See a Nova in 2083?

New Scientist

The binary V Sagittae in the constellation Sagitta has brightened exponentially over the last century and is due to become visible with the naked eye this century. V Sagittae is made up of a white dwarf and another star about 4 times more massive. As they orbit each other, plasma is pulled from the star onto the white dwarf and they get closer together. They will smash together in about the year 2083 — and will probably outshine every star in the night sky.
The work was presented at AAS 235.


Neutron Star or Black Hole?

New Scientist

LIGO has detected gravitational waves from either the smallest black hole ever found or the largest neutron star. A neutron star with a mass of 1.1−1.7 M⦿ is colliding with a partner with a mass of 2.5 M⦿ — which could be a black hole.
The work was presented at AAS 235.


Elephant walk of 52 F-35A aircraft (price tag $4.2 billion) before mass take-off from Hill AFB, Utah, Monday



2020 January 7

Iran Crisis

Financial Times

Germany and the UK aim to keep fighting ISIS following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "A new conflict would be in no one's interests, so Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations."
E3 leaders Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Boris Johnson say they are "gravely concerned" about Iran's activities and criticize its decision to ditch core curbs on its nuclear energy program agreed under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
E3 leaders: "We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility. We specifically call on Iran to refrain from further violent action or proliferation and urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPOA."
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo criticized European powers as "not helpful" enough.


Insect Apocalypse

Patrick Greenfield

A call to action by more than 70 scientists from across the planet advocates immediate action on human stress factors to insects, including habitat loss and fragmentation, the climate crisis, pollution, over-harvesting, and invasive species. Human-driven insect extinction is causing a catastrophic collapse of natural ecosystems, with more than 40% of insect species declining and a third endangered.


Twin Earth?


NASA mission TESS has found a potentially habitable exoplanet the size of Earth about 100 light years away. The planet is part of a planetary system around TOI 700, a cool M-dwarf star in the Dorado constellation. The star is about 0.4 M⦿ and 0.4 R⦿, with a surface temperature of 3 kK.
The planet, TOI 700 d, is one of three orbiting the star. It's at just the right distance to support liquid water on the surface in the star's habitable zone. Its discovery was confirmed using the IR capabilities of the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope.
TOI 700 d is the outermost of the three planets, completing one orbit around the star every 37 Earth days. From its smaller star, the planet gets about 86% of the energy Earth gets from the Sun. The planet is thought to be tidally locked to the star.
The other two planets in the system, TOI 700 b and c, are different. The innermost planet, b, is the size of Earth and rocky and orbits the star every 10 Earth days. The second planet, c, is a gaseous mini-Neptune and orbits every 16 Earth days.
The findings were announced at AAS 235 in Honolulu.


Russian Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighters

Demi Rose
Demi Rose


2020 January 6

Iran Breaks Out

David E. Sanger, William J. Broad

President Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement in May 2018. He justified his unilateral action by saying the accord was flawed, in part because its restrictions on Iran ended after only 15 years.
On Sunday, Iran declared those restrictions are over. This sounds the death knell of the agreement. The main US aim in the agreement was to keep Iran at least a year away from getting enough fuel to make a nuclear warhead.
The risk now is that uncertainties about how close the Iranians are to their first weapon will prompt calls in the United States and Israel to take military action.


Putin Defends Stalin

Edward Lucas

Hitler and Stalin worked together to wipe Poland from the map. The deal between the two worst regimes in European history should live in infamy. The secret protocol of their non-aggression pact paved the way for the second world war and the Holocaust.
The pact created what Ronald Reagan later called the evil empire, but also doomed it. Protests on its 50th anniversary started the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now August 23 is a European day of remembrance for the victims of fascism and communism.
Vladimir Putin praises Soviet sacrifice in the struggle against Hitler and says Western deals with Hitler were the real disgrace. He wants world leaders to come to Moscow in May 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany. Don't go.

2020 January 5


Donald Trump

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

AR Only Putin can stop him now. Come on Vlad, send in fraternal forces to defend Iran.

2020 January 4

America v Iran

The New York Times

General Suleimani was a senior official of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Openly targeting him was a sharp escalation in the conflict between the United States and Iran. President Trump had previously demonstrated strong aversion to American involvement in the Mideast and contempt for intelligence from the region.
US defense secretary Mark Esper: "The game has changed."


Christians 4 Trump

The Guardian

At the Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch at the King Jesus International Ministry, Miami, on Friday, Christians wearing red MAGA hats heard the word of the president and found it good.
President Trump: "My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith. We will restore the faith as the true foundation of American life."

AR Match of the century: Christianity versus Islam




Kenneth Libbrecht studies the physics of snow: "It's a little embarrassing when stuff falls out of the sky, and it's like — why does it look like that? Beats me."
In a cloud, temperature and humidity vary, but they are as good as constant across a single snowflake, so snowflake growth is often symmetrical. But each snowflake is buffeted by changing winds, sunlight, and so on, so they tend to take on different forms.
Molecules of H2O tend to lock together to form hexagonal arrays that grow into 2D stars and plates when the edges grow outward quickly while the faces grow upward slowly. Libbrecht says molecular diffusion driven by surface energy determines how the crystal growth depends on the initial conditions and movements of the molecules.
Water vapor first settles on the corners of the crystal, then diffuses over the surface either to the edge or to its faces. The freezing water molecules form a rigid lattice, with each O atom surrounded by four H atoms. A flat crystal forms when the edges grow more quickly than the two faces. When its faces grow faster than its edges the crystal forms a needle or rod.
A complete model of ice growth dynamics will need more work.


⦿ Peter Parks
"The science of climate change has been ignored in Australia for decades. We are now seeing
the very worst of our scientific predictions come to pass."
Joëlle Gergis


UK PM Boris Johnson's chief
advisor Dominic Cummings
wants "super-talented weirdos"
to work with him to transform
government. He invites people
from maths, physics, or
computer science but not
"Oxbridge humanities
graduates" to apply.

AR Cummings is an Oxford
history graduate from
my old college.




2020 January 3

Trump Kills Suleimani

The New York Times

A USAF MQ-9 Reaper drone strike authorized by US president Donald Trump killed Iran's top security and intelligence commander at Baghdad International Airport early Friday.
Major General Quassim Suleimani was the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement: "His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands."
Trump said he does not want war: "I don't think that would be a good idea for Iran. It wouldn't last very long. Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace."


A New Europe

Romain Leick

As a political project, the European Union has failed. The new European Commission president is faced with an existential crisis. Brexit is only the most dramatic symbol of decline and decay.
Under the pressure of the debt and refugee crisis, the EU states are moving at different speeds. Yet the ideas of French centralism continue to dominate the EU. Cherry picking is not allowed.
Unlike a truly democratic parliament, the European Parliament has no government and opposition factions. To democratize Europe, we need to add a common parliament to the common market and currency. Only then can the EU advance from a union of states to a sovereign union. We risk failure by exaggerating progress toward a community of values and a destiny of ever closer union.
The strength of Europe lies not in the pursuit of unattainable harmony but in the fair negotiation of conflicting interests. The ideal to preserve and cherish is that human dignity is inalienable. Europe can be a haven of humanity in a barbaric world.


Germany 2020

Deutsche Welle

Berlin will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in July 2020. German foreign minister Heiko Maas will push for a strong and sovereign Europe and call for a European security council to tackle foreign affairs and security issues.
The UK and the EU will have to agree on their future relationship during the German presidency. The EU will also have to agree on a financial framework for 2021−2027. With the departure of the UK, the EU loses a major net contributor.

2020 January 2

Europe First

Michael Sauga

All fairy tales must end. This also applies to Germany. A new story begins with the end of globalization, an economic cold war, and a new role for Europe.
World trade is slowing down. The fight against climate change makes trade more expensive. The United States and China are in a customs and technology war. Governments are putting up new barriers, isolating data networks, and regionalizing trade.
The WTO order is over. Ever since Donald Trump smashed the old laws and started one economic war after another, globalization now means winner take all. Everyone loses.
The two economic superpowers both want Europe on their side. But Europeans dare not fall for a US president who thinks their cars are a national security risk and their union a historic mistake. Nor should they accept a Chinese business model based on espionage and state control.
The right EU strategy is Europe First. EU governments should navigate between America and China and try to exploit their rivalry. This is the law of the jungle.
With its population of half a billion, the EU can be strong. But in the financial and banking sectors, in the digital economy and in many services, it is weak.
The UK wants to leave the EU. With only in or out, Brussels has nothing to offer countries like the UK, Turkey, Morocco, or Albania.



Christopher Stevens

On the first day of January, my TV gave to me — twelve nuns a-bleeding, eleven bats a-feeding, ten ghouls a-shrieking, nine corpses twitching, eight demons drooling, seven wolves a-howling, six crosses burning, five finger nails — four goblets of blood, three dead rats, two stakes through the heart, and a vampire baby in a bad mood.
Dracula (BBC1) was dripping with more gore than a raw hamburger marinated in pig's blood and garnished with an eyeball.

AR The mad nonsense of all that vampire lore left me reaching for a tome by Steven Pinker.

2020 January 1


David Marr

Another house reduced to a pile of ash. Rain is not expected until late January. The weeks ahead are looking tinder dry.
This summer in Australia puts residents in dread. The fires are not going out. Blazes are tearing through ancient forests that have never burnt before.
In Australia these days you can stare at the Sun. Take a good long look at that pink disc sinking in the murk. It has been dimmed by suffocating smoke.
Deep in cities, miles from the fire front, the smoke is so thick you can't see to the end of the street. On the beach, families sit in the smoke under a sky of flame, trapped between fires and the sea.
One of the duties of a leader is to find the words in times like these. But his words failed prime minister Scott Morrison: "We have faced these disasters before."
Morrison should speak truth to the world. It is time to demand effective action on climate change.



The Times

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant and one of the brightest stars visible to the naked eye. It is about 8 million years old and is expected to go supernova in the next 100 000 years. With a mass of around 12 M⦿ and a radius of up to a thousand R⦿, Betelgeuse is 450−600 light years away from us and its death will light up our sky like the Sun. Astronomers report a significant dimming of the star in recent weeks. It may be about to blow.


Quantum Worlds

Sean Carroll

Atoms have miraculous properties. Every time I put a cup on my table there is small chance it will fall through. It is extremely unlikely, but physically possible. In multi-world theory, everything that can happen does happen in one of myriads of universes.
These universes arise naturally when I solve the equations. When universes multiply, space splits itself up. It is like asking where our universe is located — it makes no sense.
Quantum physics describes atoms, but not gravitation. The general theory of relativity explains gravitation, but it fails at the atomic level. Only when we bring both theories together can we understand the extremes of the universe.
We must finally take multi-world theory seriously. Everything can be described solely by means of a wave: even our entire universe.
We can describe atoms as waves, but not yet macroscopic structures. Waves vibrate differently, depending on the nature of the space around them. My idea is to reverse this connection, so that if a wave vibrates in a certain way, it deforms space.
Space is just a way to understand how we talk about the universal wave. But it is an illusion. Down at the lowest level of the laws of nature, space disappears from the equations.
At the boundaries of space and time, our intuition fails. This is not surprising. In another universe, wiser scientists have surely written down the true laws of physics.

AR Something Deeply Hidden

BLOG 2019
Total eclipse

⦿ Jon Carmichael
Sun, Moon, Earth

33 days

The Benedict Option

As secular values take over
American life, many Christian
families are opting out of
mainstream society.
Rod Dreher calls it a retreat
from a new dark age:
"We're at the end of some-
thing important and profound,
and the beginning of some-
thing new and chaotic."

Solar eclipse
Annular solar eclipse
over Asia and ME

Love EU

Keep America

Black hole


2019 December 31

Tempest in 2020

Financial Times

UK plans to develop a new stealth fighter jet will accelerate in 2020. Team Tempest — BAE Systems, the UK arm of Leonardo of Italy, European missile maker MBDA, and Rolls-Royce — have one year from today to complete their plan.
BAE Systems strategic campaigns director Andrew Kennedy: "We have to give the government confidence we are working towards a viable international partnership."
Tempest is the centrepiece of RAF combat air strategy after the UK was left out of a rival Franco-German future fighter project. It will replace the Eurofighter Typhoon, which will start to be retired from RAF service in about 2040.
Since Tempest was unveiled in summer 2018, Italy and Sweden have joined the team, while Spain has committed to the Franco-German fighter. Executives in both projects admit there will be pressure to merge the two projects.
The UK combat air sector made up over four-fifths of UK defence exports over the past decade.

2019 December 30

Trump Law

Noah Feldman

Donald Trump's impeachment marks just the third time in history that a POTUS has had to face trial in the Senate.
The first article of impeachment against Trump alleges that he "abused the powers of the Presidency" in that he "solicited the interference of a foreign government" in the 2020 presidential election and concludes that he "thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification" from future government service.
The charge of abuse of office for personal gain fits neatly into the sense of high crimes and misdemeanors familiar to the framers ligence effectively proves that there was a quid pro quo.
Trump abused his office merely by requesting the "favor" he mentioned in the telephone call. His defenders can say he did not seek personal advantage when he solicited the investigations and was concerned about corruption in Ukraine. This defense is unconvincing. If Trump sought personal advantage in the form of the announcement of the investigations, then his act of soliciting them was ipso facto an abuse of office. It does not matter that he could conceivably also have had a broader public interest in fighting corruption.
The second article of impeachment charges Trump with obstruction of Congress. If Trump's abuse of office for personal gain is the epitome of the conduct feared by the framers, his outright refusal to cooperate in any way with the House impeachment inquiry would almost certainly have taken them by surprise.
As a matter of basic constitutional logic, the only thing the House of Representatives can do when faced with presidential refusal to cooperate in impeachment is to impeach the president for that same act of obstruction.
If Trump is reelected after having been impeached, he may see himself as above the law.

2019 December 29

Science Under Attack

Brad Plumer, Coral Davenport

The Trump administration has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking and halted or disrupted research projects nationwide.
Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions, and pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining.
Each year, the Trump administration proposes sweeping budget cuts at major federal agencies as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. Many top government appointees are former industry lobbyists. As regulations on industry are rolled back, officials begin questioning research findings.
At the EPA, political appointees often overrule EPA career experts. Staffing has fallen to its lowest levels in a decade, and the agency has cut academics from its science advisory board in favor of industry appointees. A proposal to limit regulators from using research unless all the data can be made public could prevent the EPA from using work based on confidential health data.
University of Texas at Austin law professor Wendy Wagner: "When we decapitate the government's ability to use science in a professional way, that increases the risk that we start making bad decisions, that we start missing new public health risks."
National Park Service scientist Patrick Gonzalez aims to protect national parks. He testified before Congress about the risks of global warming and co-authored a UN report on climate change. Shortly after testifying, his supervisor sent him a cease-and-desist letter.
Gonzalez: "I saw it as attempted intimidation."

2019 December 28

Nuclear Fusion

Clive Cookson

UKAEA is working on nuclear fusion reactors based on the tokamak design that holds a deuterium− tritium plasma in a toroidal reaction vessel with electromagnets while raising its temperature above 100 MK so that the nuclei fuse and release energy.
The UKAEA Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), for which the government announced £220 million public investment last month, is a commercially driven project to construct a power plant by 2040.
A small British company, Tokamak Energy, aim to develop working commercial nuclear fusion reactors by 2030. Its SP40 reactor has heated plasma to 15 MK and its target is to generate fusion power by 2025 to go commercial by 2030. Investors have put £50 million into the company.
Another small British company, First Light Fusion, is pioneering a novel approach. It aims to initiate fusion by firing a hypersonic barrage of small copper projectiles into a tiny capsule containing deuterium and tritium. First Light expects to demonstrate early in 2020 that the system can work. Investors have put £25 million into the company.
UKAEA is assisting in the design and construction of ITER, a big fusion machine built by a global consortium of governments in southern France. Beset with delays and cost overruns — the current estimate is $22 billion — ITER is now set to start operating in 2025.
UKAEA chief executive Ian Chapman: "We will have fusion."

2019 December 27

Biology in 2019

John Rennie

Life and death
Researchers working on the isolated brains of pigs dead for hours reanimated the tissues well enough for the neurons to conduct electrical signals. Other cells in tissues on the path to dying return to life in a process called anastasis.

Brain maps
Our brains compile mental maps of our surroundings and our place in them. They use the same hexadirectional grid system for encoding relative positional information to keep track of abstract ideas and to order events in a memory timeline.

Attention and perception
Attention seems to point more mental resources at one sliver of our perceptions to concentrate on it, but in fact the brain focuses attention on part of its sensory field by filtering out the signals for the other parts. The brain screens out stimuli deemed less relevant and speeds up perceptions by anticipating likely stimuli.

The human genome
Human DNA from living people and from ancient populations show that modern humans did not migrate out of Africa just once 60,000 years ago but moved in and out of Africa many times. People today carry some Neanderthal DNA, and Neanderthals picked up more DNA from their ancestors.

Complex eukaryotic cells appeared when prokaryotic host cells and symbiotic partners inside them formed a union. As the endosymbionts became organelles like mitochondria, their genes were absorbed into the host genome. Symbiosis made the cellular partners interdependent and led to compartmentalized functional structures.

In an embryo, cells learn what kind of tissue to become by reading the concentrations of morphogenetic chemical signals around them. They decode the information from the signals with optimum efficiency to maintain control over their physiology.

2019 December 26

Science Made Progress

Laura Spinney

This was the decade that that reminded us science is just a method. It can be more or less rigorously applied, sabotaged, overrated, underrated, and ignored.
Physicists detected phenomena predicted long ago — gravitational waves, the Higgs boson — indicating that they are on the right track. NASA probes found towering ice mountains on Pluto and organic chemistry on Mars and a moon of Saturn. And thousands of exoplanets were discovered in the past 10 years.
Biologists honed an immunological defence mechanism found in bacteria, Crispr-Cas9, into a powerful gene-editing tool. They added several new ancestors to the human family tree and discovered traces of others. Very old DNA revealed that every person alive today is the product of multiple waves of migration.
Science was commandeered by all kinds of people with axes to grind. White supremacists held milk-chugging parties in America, supposedly designed to smoke out people of non-European heritage who can't digest lactose. Hindu nationalists claimed that the speakers of the original Indo-European language hailed from the Indian subcontinent.
Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui used Crispr to edit the genomes of twin girls — the first humans born with edited DNA they can pass on. Genetic testing is becoming mainstream. The first vaccine against Ebola was approved. Fear of vaccines has led to a global resurgence of measles.
Science funding has been slowly increasing in the world's richest countries. We should be glad to have the scientific method.


Die Zauberflöte

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

This new production of Die Zauberflöte was staged at Glyndebourne by the director/designer duo Renaud Doucet and André Barbe in the summer of 2019. They freely updated it to a Viennese hotel in the early 1900s. Caroline Wettergreen stars as the Queen of the Night, while Ryan Wigglesworth conjures the sound of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

AR A charming production and a joy to experience last night on BBC4.

2019 Christmas Day


Pope Francis

God continues to love us all, even the worst of us. You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you.

AR Loving our leaders is hard work.



HM the Queen

The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a difference. [..] By being willing to put past differences behind us and move forward together we honour the freedom and democracy once won for us at so great a cost.

AR HM obviously prefers UK-in-US over UK-in-EU. Hm.



Nouriel Roubini

The United States and China have made a deal to prevent further escalation of their bilateral trade war. The deal is a temporary truce in a strategic rivalry. America regards the rise of China as a threat to its economic and national security.
The Sino-American relationship is shifting. Unfettered strategic competition will lead eventually from an escalating cold war to a hot war. Alternatives to a cold war involve cooperation in some areas and constructive competition in others.
Managed strategic competition with China requires engagement and cooperation with other countries. Western countries need to enact economic and political reforms. But the current US administration lacks strategic vision.



Stefan Bielik

The new British government looks familiar to many Europeans. The Conservatives have pledged to look at the broader aspects of the constitution, including relations between the three branches of government. This parallels events in Poland and Hungary.
The EU limits constitutional meddling in Hungary or Poland. Their governments are too scared that Brussels may cut their funding and too aware of the huge popularity of EU membership to risk censure. The UK is now free from this sort of concern.
Britain is no longer special. Its government is starting to look like just another European autocracy. Institutions that run on gentlemen's agreements and convention are even more prone to abuse than those in central and eastern Europe.

2019 Christmas Eve


Paul Krugman

Many conservative American politicians only pretend to be Scrooges, when they're actually much worse — not mere misers, but actively cruel. This was true long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. What Trump has brought to his party is a new willingness to be openly vicious. We'd be in much better shape if Trump and company were merely heartless misers.



Donald Trump

I never understood wind. I've studied it better than anybody I know.
I know windmills very much. They're noisy. They kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard? Go under a windmill someday. You'll see more birds than you've ever seen in your life.
They're made in China and Germany mostly. But [when] they're manufactured [the factories emit] tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere.
You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So [a] tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything.
You talk about the carbon footprint, fumes are spewing into the air, right? Spewing. Whether it's in China, Germany, it's going into the air. It's our air, their air, everything, right?
You see all those [windmills]. They're all different shades of color. They're like sort of white, but one is like an orange-white. It's my favorite color, orange.
You know what they don't tell you about windmills? After 10 years they look like hell. They start to get tired, old.

AR Hail the Commander in Chief.

2019 December 23

A Culture War in the UK

Clare Foges

A culture war is convulsing the UK. Some say only the Conservative party will stand against the direction many wish to lead us in. If Labour wants to govern again in the next decade, those vying to lead the party must pay attention.
Consider how far we have come in the last decade. People who are still biologically male will soon be able to enter female hospital wards or prisons. The University and College Union says a person may self-identify as whatever race they choose.
Such stories have divided the UK into two camps. On one side we have the woke warriors, on the other the silent majority. The silent majority blame snowflakes for every liberal excess, the woke see racist gammons behind every injustice.
Life for many in the UK is made harder on account of their sex or race or sexuality. Where there is genuine bigotry and bullying, it must be confronted. But objective truth and biological fact should not be shoved aside.


A Golden Decade for Physics


 Seeing a black hole
      In April 2019, astronomers released the first-ever picture of a black hole. The image reveals
     the supermassive black hole and its shadow at the center of galaxy M87.

      In 2018, neutrinos were caught in the Antarctic IceCube detector. The neutrinos were traced
     to a galaxy with a supermassive, rapidly spinning black hole at its center, known as a blazar.

Water worlds
      In 2017, NASA announced new evidence that the most likely places to find life beyond Earth
     are Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Big collision
      In 2017, two neutron stars in a nearby galaxy were seen spiraling around each other until they
     collided, emitting gravitational waves. The kilonova forged and scattered heavy elements.

Gravitational waves
      In 2016, astronomers observed the gravitational waves from when two black holes merged.

The Higgs boson
      In 2012, LHC scientists announced the discovery of the Higgs boson. This was the last missing
     piece in the Standard Model of particle physics.

Thousands of planets
      Since 2009, the NASA Kepler mission has discovered 2,681 exoplanets in our galaxy. Up to half
     the stars we can see may have small, rocky, Earth-size planets within their habitable zones.

AR This is part of a longer golden age for science.


Midsommar teaser trailer

Boris Johnson
His Brexit bill was
"oven ready"

Euler equations

Du/Dt = −∇w + g
∇·u = 0


2019 Winter Solstice

The Church


Catholicism in Europe broke down extended kin-based institutions and encouraged a nuclear family structure.
The Church transformed European kinship structures during the Middle Ages. People from western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) populations tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial, while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty.
Diverse kin-based institutions have been the primary structure for organizing social life in most societies. With the origins of agriculture, cultural evolution increasingly favored intensive kinship norms related to cousin marriage, clans, and co-residence that fostered social tightness, interdependence, and in-group cooperation.
People's motivations, emotions, and perceptions are shaped by the social norms they encounter while growing up. Within intensive kin-based institutions, their psychological processes adapt to the collectivistic demands of their dense social networks. Intensive kinship norms reward greater conformity, obedience, and in-group loyalty.
Countries with longer historical exposure to the Church are more individualistic and independent, less conforming and obedient, and more inclined toward trust and cooperation with strangers. By 1500 CE, Europe was dominated by relatively independent and isolated nuclear or stem families.
Weird psychological patterns have been influenced by Church policies and institutions.

AR For a vivid depiction of a pagan European society in action, see the movie Midsommar.

2019 December 21

Europe Faces 2020

Luke McGee

Brexit has been a big headache ever since the UK voted to leave in 2016. In that time, the EU had to turn away from its other problems. Its member states are ignoring the rule of EU law, deviating from its standards on human rights, and denying press freedom.
In Poland, the national supreme court has warned the governing Law and Justice party that its proposed judicial reforms could get Poland booted out of the EU. The proposed reforms ignore the EU requirement that courts act independently of government.
In Hungary, the prime minister has presided over a decade of assaults on the national courts, academic institutions, central bank, and press. Croatia, Greece, and Bulgaria face criticisms of their tight press controls. Europe faces a crisis over trust on values and law.
EU members are overseen by the European Court of Justice. National courts are expected to respect European law. But the EU is a small bureaucracy that depends on national judges and national civil servants and cannot interfere directly in national domestic politics.
Eurasia Group director Mujtaba Rahman: "Brexit was a team-building exercise where the EU could demonstrate how united they were. But it was really something of a cover to disguise how little they agree on the bigger challenges facing the continent."

2019 December 20

Brexit: MPs Back Bill

BBC News, 1435 UTC

MPs vote by 358 to 234 to back Boris Johnson's Brexit bill to leave the EU on 31 January 2020.


Britain: A Lost Soul

BBC News, 1149 UTC

Wera Hobhouse, the German-born Lib Dem MP for Bath, is a passionate defender of the EU. She concedes the "battle for Brexit is over" but says her opposition to leaving the EU has not melted away. On a personal level, she says she "feels different about the country" she calls a "lost soul" after the events of the past few years, and adds that the "relentless rhetoric and hostile environment" over freedom of movement has caused "deep wounds" that will not heal easily.


Greed Is Dead

Paul Collier

Economic Man was greedy, lazy, and selfish. He only worked if incentivized by material benefit. His baleful influence destroyed job satisfaction.
Economic Man is a travesty. Economic theorems describe how a society of psychopaths could function. Real human beings have evolved for morality and ethical behavior.
The human capacity for social learning has expanded the stock of knowledge transmitted through culture and education. People of high status spread behavior via their opinions.
Emulation amplifies our hardwired prosocial instincts. The most prestigious figures in a group are commonly modest and generous, so others emulate modesty and generosity.
Economic and technological shocks have created big winners whose behavior is influential. These winners turn into Economic Men whose repellent norms prevail.
CEOs became Economic Men. They claimed moral superiority with values that alienated fellow citizens. Socially purposive business conflated purpose with profit.
Economics linked rationality with selfish greed and told CEOs to take pride in these values. Economics must become a human science.


Fluid Singularities

Kevin Hartnett

The Euler equations describe an idealized fluid. Information about points in a fluid, including velocity and vorticity, forms a velocity field. Feed the equations with an initial velocity field, and they predict how it evolves over time.
The equations do not describe a real-world fluid. They include several nonphysical assumptions, such as incompressibility and zero viscosity. Under some circumstances, the equations blow up and predict singularities.
Tarek Elgindi considered a simplified model. Consider a tank of water with two thick rings of water at opposite ends, like eddies or whirlpools. When the rings approach each other, they attract, and the inner parts of the rings pull with greater force than the outer parts.
The rings elongate like funnels. As their centers get closer, their speeds increase until they crash. Elgindi proved that the Euler equations predict infinite vorticity at the point of collision.

AR No big surprise.

HM the Queen delivers a speech to parliament about what her government will do for the second time in 10 weeks.

AR This is a workplace for political leaders. Protestants disdain such historical bling even in a place of worship.
I recommend a wholesale update of British politics.

King Trump


3 nations
Brexit Britain

The Observer
US dysfunction in Afghanistan

Feynman diagram


2019 December 19

UK Funding Crisis

Financial Times

The British armed forces face a funding crisis that threatens to ground aircraft and restrict support deployments. A critical shortfall in the 2020 defense budget of about £1 billion is exacerbated by financial commitments such as the F-35 fighter jets and the new fleet of Astute-class submarines.

AR Post-imperial overreach. Face facts, cut the crazy cost commitments, and admit the UK no longer punches above its weight. Dump the boxing metaphor and commit instead to becoming a peace-loving union of nations that seeks only friendship and harmony with its neighbors.

2019 December 18

Trump Impeached

The New York Times

On Wednesday evening, the House of Representatives impeached the president of the United States. A magnificent and terrible machine engineered by the founders, still and silent through almost all of American history, has for only the third time in 231 years shifted into motion.
The nihilism of this moment — the trashing of constitutional safeguards, the scorn for facts, the embrace of corruption, the indifference to historical precedent and to foreign interference in US politics — is due principally to cowardice and opportunism on the part of Republican leaders.
Republican lawmakers competed with one another to invoke the most outlandish metaphor of evil — from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ — and suggest that Trump is enduring even worse.

Trump Sick Note

The New York Times

President Donald Trump wrote a six-page letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi protesting the impeachment proceedings. Here is an annotated copy.

We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated
George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Rick Wilson

Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics. As Americans, we must stem the damage he and his followers are doing to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American character.


Tory Problem

Daniel Finkelstein

The problem with the Tory alliance in this election is that it depends on groups that will shrink with time — older, whiter and less qualified than tomorrow's population. Maybe the right decision is to appeal as the party of open markets and liberalism and an outward looking, educated middle class, helping the vulnerable by making Britain prosperous. Maybe that is the future.

AR Daniel was offering advice to Labour, but the "right decision" applies more aptly to his fellow Conservatives, who should reconsider their misconceived opposition to the EU.



European Space Agency

Cheops lifted off from the ESA spaceport at 09:54 CET on 18 December. Signals from the spacecraft at 12:43 CET confirmed the launch had succeeded.

2019 December 17


European Space Agency

The ESA Characterising Exoplanet Satellite Cheops is the first mission dedicated to studying bright nearby stars that are already known to host exoplanets. It will focus on planets in the super-Earth to Neptune size range, and will make high-precision observations of their size in order to derive the bulk density of these alien worlds.
The mission is scheduled to launch today from the ESA Kourou site in French Guiana. A Soyuz-Fregat launcher will put the satellite into a Sun-synchronous, dusk-dawn orbit 700 km above Earth. The satellite is 1.5 m in size, with a mass of 280 kg and a 1.2 Gbit/day data downlink.


Nuclear Power

Steven Pinker

When we think of nuclear power, we immediately think of Chernobyl. In the Chernobyl accident, 31 people died and several thousand or maybe even ten thousand people died of cancer. But coal kills well over half a million people every year by causing respiratory ailments or cancer.
We underestimate how many people die when a dam breaks, or who fall from roofs while installing solar cells. Nuclear power is the safest source of energy we have that can also supply large cities with energy day and night.
Humans have difficulties dealing with risks. We prefer to eliminate a single small risk entirely rather than reduce overall risk. We see that with the fear of flying, where we issue increasingly stringent safety regulations for aircraft. But the chance of dying in a car is much higher per km traveled.
Obstacles to the final disposal of nuclear waste are more political than technological. Part of the waste can probably be reused in next-generation reactors. Global warming will pose a much greater threat to our children and grandchildren than our nuclear waste.

2019 December 16

UK Democracy

Electoral Reform Society

AR UK prime minister Boris Johnson won the election with a "thumping" parliamentary victory.
Yet relative to 2017, the Lib Dem vote rose by 1.3 million, the Labour vote fell by 2.6 million,
and the Conservative vote rose by only 304,000.
Votes per MP in 2019:


Lib Dem




I live in a sham democracy.

2019 December 15

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

President Donald Trump abused the power of his office by strong-arming Ukraine to help him influence the 2020 election. When caught in the act, he rejected the very idea that a president could be required by Congress to explain and justify his actions.
From the articles of impeachment: "President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law."
Trump has been committing arguably impeachable offenses since the moment he entered the Oval Office, including his acceptance of foreign money at his many businesses and his obstructions of justice in the Russia investigation.


The Battle for Europe

Timothy Garton Ash

Leaving the EU will cause the UK to be weaker and poorer, as well as wrecking it as a unified state.
Under Boris Johnson's deal, Northern Ireland will be in a different economic and legal space from England, Scotland, and Wales. NI will probably remain constitutionally part of the UK for some time, but it will become ever more integrated with the republic of Ireland.
Scotland voted as emphatically for the SNP as England did for the Conservatives. Nicola Sturgeon will press for Scotland to leave the British union and rejoin the European one. Obstructing a second Scottish referendum will make Scots more likely to vote for independence when they can.
A final dissolution of the union is not inevitable. But now is the time to start fighting the battle of England. An independent England can be a strong European country.
The battle to keep the UK in the EU is lost. The battle for a European England has only just begun.

AR The UK is toast. Long live England.


The Virtue of Nationalism

Yoram Hazony

Nationalism is not some unfathomable political illness that periodically takes over countries for no good reason and to no good end. It is a principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference. This is opposed to imperialism, which seeks to bring peace and prosperity to the world by uniting mankind under a single political regime.

AR Nationalism is a kind of imperialism. Any nation includes minorities, regions, dissidents, and so on, all of whom find only token expression in a typical national polity. Ethnic and linguistic divisions are the most reliable national identifiers, but few modern nations carve anywhere near those joints.
My own idiolect and genome are unique. I see no reason to accept rule by otherwise endowed potentates in a distant capital city that does not bind me also to accept rule from other cities in other ways. The nation that accommodates me is just one among many nations on Earth. All of them contribute in their own ways to defining my unique identity.
Rationality rules, not nationality.

2019 December 14

A New Trade Era

Peter S. Goodman

Getting Brexit done marks a profound change in the world trading system. A new trade deal between the United States and China is another mark of a new era.
President Trump imagines the scale of the US economy gives him the advantage in any bilateral trade negotiations. He thinks multilateralism is for suckers. For him, America First means weaponizing international trade.
Chinese leaders see trade hostilities as part of an American campaign to suppress their national aspirations and deny the country its rightful place as a superpower.
Brexit Britain aims to at secure bilateral trading arrangements with major economies worldwide. But Britain sends nearly half of its exports to the EU. No new trade deals are likely to compensate for walking away from the European single market.
The rise of nationalist imperatives is driven by public anger over widening economic inequality. In Britain, the 2016 referendum that triggered Brexit became a protest vote against the bankers whose financial crisis led to a decade of austerity.
Economists see perils in this unfolding era. It is the biggest upsurge of economic nationalism in generations.

AR This may be a necessary — but painful — phase before the globalization of politics we need to regulate big corporations, the internet, the global legal and fiscal order, the human response to the climate crisis, and the development and release of cultivars.


Crime Warning

Edward Luce

A Warning, a book by Anonymous, relates how Donald Trump reacts to anyone trying to keep a record of meetings. "What the fuck are you doing?" the US president asks. "Are you fucking taking notes?" Staffers take this as a sign that he is about to ask his lawyers to do something unethical. It is a regular event in the White House.
Crime In Progress, by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, is the most convincing case you are likely to read that the US president is an asset of the Russian government. Robert Mueller chose not to look into Trump's taxes, his ties with Russian money, or allegations of money laundering, yet recorded more than 140 contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Commissioned in 2015, Fusion GPS found Trump had done business with 25 individuals or companies with documented mob ties over the years. The length of his litigation record dwarfed anything they had ever seen. Trump owed the revival of his commercial fortunes to a "conduit of cash from the former Soviet Union into his various stumbling enterprises" — much of it thought to have come from Russian banks close to the Kremlin.


Black Holes Warm Active Galaxies

Charlie Wood

Active galaxies make surprisingly few stars. As their hot clouds radiate X-rays, their gas should cool and clump together, forming stars. It seems the supermassive black holes in the galaxies warm the gas via long jets expelled from the poles of the holes.
Yuan Li and her team found evidence that turbulence spreads the jet energy. Turbulence occurs when bigger swirls break up into smaller swirls in a cascade that passes energy down to particle level. It can explain how active galaxies keep warm.


Spin and the Laws of Nature

Natalie Wolchover

The laws of physics largely dictate one another through their mutual consistency. Consider how elementary particles with different amounts of spin, or intrinsic angular momentum, can consistently behave. We rediscover the four fundamental forces of nature.
A particle's spin reflects its underlying symmetries. A spin 1 particle returns to the same state after being rotated by one full turn. A spin 1/2 particle must complete two full rotations to come back to the same state, while a spin 2 particle looks identical after half a turn. Elementary particles can only carry 0, 1/2, 1, 3/2 or 2 units of spin.
Spins constrain simple particle interactions. Momentum must be conserved. Locality dictates that particles scatter by meeting in spacetime. Unitarity says the probabilities of all possible outcomes add up to 1. These conditions on the equations lead to solutions.
The photon is the massless spin 1 particle of electromagnetism. For such a particle, the equation describing four-particle interactions has no viable solutions. Photons do not scatter off each other, but they can participate in interactions involving other types of particles. These constraints lead to Maxwell's equations.
Gluons convey the strong force. They are also massless spin 1 particles, but they come in multiple colors. Gluons can satisfy the four-particle interaction equation and self-interact in glueballs. Constraints on the self-interactions lead to quantum chromodynamics.
Mass arose when a symmetry broke and the value of the Higgs field went from zero to a positive number. Massive spin 1 particles called W and Z bosons convey the weak force.
For spin 2, the solution to the four-particle interaction equation looks beset with infinities. But the interaction can go three different ways, and the infinities cancel, permitting a solution.
The graviton is a spin 2 particle that couples to itself and all other particles with equal strength, leading to the equivalence principle of general relativity.
Symmetry constraints on particle interactions explain the existence of the strong and weak forces and the forces of electromagnetism and gravity.
Many different spin 0 particles are possible. The only known example is the Higgs boson. Hypothetical spin 0 particles called the inflaton may have inflated the universe.
Spin 1/2 particles make up what we call matter. Our universe contains both spin 1/2 quarks that interact with gluons and photons and spin 1/2 neutrinos that interact with neither.
The spin spectrum stops at 2. Spin 3/2 particles exist only if supersymmetry is true.

AR Spin is important.



Boris Johnson


2019 December 13

Conservative Duty

Financial Times

The Conservative landslide vindicates Boris Johnson's strategy of going all-out for a new Brexit deal, then building his campaign around delivering it. He now has a decisive mandate to take the UK out of the EU on January 31. His majority frees him from being held hostage by the ERG and the DUP. He has an opportunity to pivot and pursue a closer future relationship with the EU. He should take it.

AR I await his Damascene conversion eagerly.


Labour Collapse

Polly Toynbee

Labour was disastrously, catastrophically bad. Jeremy Corbyn should have gone before dawn. He is a man without any qualities required of a leader. He did the UK profound, irreparable harm. Had he led his party and the unions against Brexit, Remainers could have won the 2016 referendum.

AR Labour has lost its heart and soul.


Lib Dem Error

Philip Collins

Leavers should thank Jo Swinson. It was only when the Liberal Democrats decided to abandon the Remain alliance, which had Boris Johnson trapped in parliament, that his election became possible. Her policy to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit without a second vote was a mistake.

AR Her reward was to lose her seat.


Local Results

Daily Echo

The count for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole was held at Bournemouth International Centre.
The result was a clean sweep for the sitting Conservatives:
 Sir Christopher Chope MP for Christchurch
 Tobias Ellwood MP for Bournemouth East
 Conor Burns MP for Bournemouth West
 Michael Tomlinson MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole
 Sir Robert Syms MP for Poole

AR Politics in Dorset are almost feudal.


German View

Jörg Schindler

From his first days in office, he lied to his country and his queen. He reacted to opponents in his party by throwing them out. He ridiculed parliament and threatened the media.
Now he promises the people pie in the sky. And the people voted for him. Boris Johnson has triumphed in a way no Brit has triumphed since Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

AR After the 1987 election I moved to Germany.

People's government

⦿ Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Boris Johnson on the last day of his election campaign



2019 December 12

European Green Deal

Ursula von der Leyen

Humanity faces an existential threat. Forests burn from America to Australia. Deserts are advancing across Africa and Asia. Rising sea levels threaten our European cities as well as Pacific islands. Science tells us we are running out of time.
The European Green Deal will cut emissions while also creating jobs and improving our quality of life. It will drive new economic opportunities. We will deliver a sustainable European investment plan, supporting €1 trillion of investment over the next decade.
The European Green Deal is a contribution to a better world.


About Time

Carlo Rovelli

Loop quantum gravity (LQG) aims to combine general relativity (GR) and quantum mechanics (QM). GR says space is a flexible shell around us. QM says every field of this kind has a granular structure.
The central result of LQG is that space is made up of grains. These are linked in a network of relations that weaves space like chain mail. Space is created by linking these quanta of gravity.
Just as the idea of a continuous space disappears, so the idea of primal time flowing regardless of things also vanishes. Elementary processes cannot be ordered in a single time line.
There is no longer space that contains the world or time in which events occur. The illusion of spacetime continuing around us is a blurred vision of swarming elementary processes.

AR We and the world emerge from eternity.

Person of the Year

"President Trump not only
should be impeached, he
must be impeached if
America's democracy
is to remain intact."
Thomas L. Friedman

Get stuffed

Henryk Gorecki
Symphony No.3, Op.36
(Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
Zofia Kilanowicz, soprano
Polish National Radio
Symphony Orchestra
Antoni Wit

"I believe that leaving the
European Union is the worst
foreign policy decision in my
lifetime. It will affect nearly
every aspect of our lives for
many decades to come and
it will make our country
poorer and weaker."
Sir John Major

Lucy in the Sky

Silver Spit flies
around the world


2019 December 11

Brexit Trade Deal

Michel Barnier

With regard to a post-Brexit trade agreement, we will not get everything done in 11 months. We will do all we can to get the vital minimum to establish a relationship with the UK, if that is the time scale. We will have a few months to achieve the minimum necessary for the economy and security or to prepare for a cliff edge for trade.


The Afghanistan War

Ben Armbruster

The war in Afghanistan is a lost cause. The Afghanistan Papers detail how US officials deliberately misled the public on progress. American leaders knew they could not win.
The United States has so far doled out nearly $1 trillion for the war in Afghanistan. Everyone is on the take, from defense industry executives and lobbyists to Afghan government officials and poppy farmers to anyone and anything in between.
The Pentagon budget allocates huge amounts in unnecessary appropriations resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse. Yet Congress continues to throw more and more money at the defense department every year.
The Afghanistan Papers clearly show that a lot of people were killed, injured, and subject to years of psychological trauma and financial hardship for nothing.


Person or Pig?

Jim Holt

Pigs, so far as we know, are conscious. They have inner experiences, just like us. Perhaps they are even conscious of their own existence.
The memory young children share with other animals is episodic. It enables them to learn from experience. Autobiographical memory develops much later in human children.
When you summon up an autobiographical memory, you engage in a kind of mental time travel. You identify your current remembering self with your past experiencing self. Autobiographical memory lets us understand ourselves as beings whose existence extends over time.
The capacity emerges in us at about the end of our preschool years. But only in our adolescence do we come to string together our autobiographical memories into a coherent life chronicle.
A pig has a synchronic self in the here and now. But a human can develop a diachronic self that extends over time. That may be why it is better to be a human than a pig.
Putting together a diachronic self is hard work. Autobiographical memory supplies the raw materials for building a self. It is up to us to do the work.
People say they want to be happy. They want their needs filled. They want their life to be enjoyable from moment to moment, like pigs.
But people also want their lives to be meaningful. Activities that increase meaning can reduce happiness, and vice versa. Raising children reliably diminishes happiness, both from moment to moment and on the whole, but people say children give meaning to their lives.
Happiness and meaning are our two masters. We sometimes sacrifice happiness for meaning, and we sometimes sacrifice meaning for happiness.
Autobiographical memory gives us the stuff to weave a narrative in which we star in our own story. Friedrich Nietzsche: "We want to be the poets of our lives."
To will one's own individuality, say Nietzscheans, is to become something new. Adolf Hitler might well have looked back affirmatively on his decision to fight for the Thousand Year Reich. Harry Frankfurt: "Immoral lives may be good to live."
Platonists say a meaningful self-narrative must be an ascent of desire toward a transcendent and timeless Good.

2019 December 10

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

New York Democrat Representative Jerrold Nadler: "Today, in service to our duty to the Constitution, and to our country, the House Committee on Judiciary is introducing two articles of impeachment charging the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, with committing high crimes and misdemeanors."


America: The Facts


With its meddling operation in 2016, Russia set Americans against one another, fanning divisions and undermining confidence in US democracy. Without agreement in Washington on common facts or goodwill between political adversaries, an honest assessment of President Trump's actions is impossible. America may never heal from the recriminations and infectious doubts that stained the last presidential election.


Extinction 2071

Jeff VanderMeer

In the past two decades, biotechnological advances saved our planet from a climate crisis that would have destroyed us. Our triumph is overshadowed by a new threat. We risk being destroyed by the organisms that saved us.
The application of biotechnology to the climate crisis began in 2048. This effort to direct the power of biotechnology was enabled not only by organisms that devoured carbon and plastic but also by cultivars that reduced extinction rates among wild animals and trees.
But we ignored the dangers of what we created. Whether we were affixing an ear to a mouse or growing miniature chimp brains in ostrich bodies and then putting those brains into dinosaurs, we did not want to think too much about these animals. We abandoned the moral high ground.
Today, a bluebird is a bioengineered surveillance camera drone. Our biotech is ubiquitous, and it is manipulating us and experimenting on us. Our haphazard engineering of such creatures has given them a form of autonomy we do not understand.
Hacking haunts all of our biological transactions these days. We have already lost sex, but we cannot avoid contamination even when we breathe. We no longer know what we are, because we are so different.

2019 December 9

Der Steinmeier-Formel

Spiegel Plus

Heute trifft Wolodymyr Selenskyj, der jetzige Präsident der Ukraine, mit dem russischen Präsidenten Wladimir Putin in Paris. Frankreich und Deutschland wollen, dass endlich wieder Bewegung in den festgefahrenen Friedensprozess kommt.
Dafür war der neue ukrainische Präsident bereit zu einem Kompromiss. Die von prorussischen Separatisten kontrollierten Regionen im Osten des Landes, die sogenannten Volksrepubliken Luhansk und Donezk, sollen einen Sonderstatus bekommen. Im Gegenzug werden in den Gebieten lokale Wahlen abgehalten. Kiew würde durch die Wahlen ein Stück Souveränität über die Gebiete im Osten des Landes zurückgewinnen, die prorussischen Separatisten bekämen über den Sonderstatus eine föderale Selbstverwaltung zugesichert.
Der Urheber dieser Lösung ist Frank-Walter Steinmeier, einst Außenminister, heute Bundespräsident. In Berlin und Paris wird der Durchbruch der "Steinmeier-Formel" als Erfolg der deutschen Diplomatiekunst gefeiert

2019 December 8

A Dangerous Charlatan

The Observer

Boris Johnson's record in office is dire. His Brexit withdrawal agreement paves the way for, at best, a bare-bones free trade relationship with the EU. He would take us into the abyss.
On Thursday, voters have the chance to strip power from a dangerous charlatan. We urge voters to deny Johnson the opportunity to wreak existential damage on the UK.


England's Last Roar

Pankaj Mishra

The England of entrenched privilege and extreme inequality, of archaic political and social structures and an economy geared to enriching the rich, has sunk to nihilistic self-destruction with Brexit.
Englishness was always a form of theatre, first staged in overseas colonies. Today, in a post-imperial Britain run by half-witted public schoolboys, the English character is exposed as an imperial pose of masculine authority and racial superiority.
Enoch Powell was a lower middle-class native of the West Midlands who became a professor of classics at Cambridge, taught himself fox-hunting, and exulted in the hierarchies of empire in India. He came to develop a certain rather fierce idea of England and its destiny.
To be English in multiracial England after 1945 was to know a devastating loss of manliness. For Powell, the appearance on English streets of the savages against whom Englishness had been defined on the imperial frontier was just too much. In his 1968 "rivers of blood" speech, he said: "In this country in 15 or 20 years' time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man."
The temptation to hold foreigners and immigrants responsible for decline and stagnation was strong in England as postwar economic growth tapered off. English identity was always little more than a theatrical performance of brute power abroad by men of the imperial ruling class. Powell defined it against emasculating foreigners.
Powell also invested his zeal in Europhobia: "Belonging to the common market spells living death, the abandonment of all prospect of national rebirth, the end of any possibility of resurgence."
Powellism steadily built up to its present apotheosis in Brexit through the Thatcher−Blair years of deregulation and privatisation, immigration issues, tabloid journalism, and Tory EU-baiting.
As Boris Johnson never tires of repeating: Get Brexit Done. A dose of hard Brexit, he suggests, will toughen the national mind and body for the bracing climb to the sunny uplands of Empire 2.0. Like Powell, he presents himself as the saviour of England's peerless destiny.

2019 December 7

Will Brexit Destabilize Europe?

David Keys

University of Glasgow professor Beatrice Heuser: "[The] general election is almost completely ignoring the absolutely crucial European stability and security element of the ongoing Brexit debate .. reduced levels of European solidarity, increased levels of economic and political rivalry, and increased levels of nationalism .. pose a threat to everyone [in] Europe."
Areas in and around the EU where stability could unravel if Brexit weakens the union include central Romania, Bosnia, Kosovo, the eastern Aegean, southern Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Moldova area, the area around Cyprus, the Baltic states, Belarus, Kaliningrad, Catalonia, and Flanders.
Brexit will change the political balance within the EU. It will increase the economic centrality of Germany, accentuate differences between France and Germany, and increase divisions between southern and northern Europe. Divisions within the EU and tensions between the EU and America could also weaken NATO.
Ethnicity and history are increasingly being used by EU member states and others to increase their influence in neighbouring EU nations and other countries. A weaker or politically more divided EU may well accelerate that process.
Over the past 500 years, war has dominated the European continent for a total of 300 years. Thanks to the EU and NATO, Europe has lived in relative peace for the past 75 years. If we exclude those decades from the calculations, about two-thirds of the period 1500 to 1945 was scarred by major wars in which millions of Europeans died.
Armed conflict has been the single largest cause of death for young Britons over the past 106 years. Almost half of all deaths of UK men aged 18 to 34 in that period have been as a result of war.
Oxford Brookes University professor Roger Griffin: "We have entered a new era of ideological and political conflict .. I fear that .. Brexit could well further embolden the forces of right-wing populism in Europe and weaken visions of a stable continent, based on a common European identity."
The British empire lured Britain into not seeing itself as a European power. The Commonwealth and the Anglosphere still lead those who dream of the past to turn their backs on the mainland.
Before WW1, Britain focused on its empire and neglected any major role in Europe. Britain was strong militarily outside Europe and on the high seas, but Germany saw it as a minor player in continental Europe.
Before WW2, Britain sabotaged moves toward greater European cooperation and let Germany dominate Europe. It stayed out of the Spanish civil war and acquiesced in the German occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Oxford University professor Timothy Garton Ash: "The fact that .. Britain, Germany and France are all members of the EU has helped Europe to function in a stable way for many decades. Removing the UK from that triangular relationship is likely to change the delicate balances between member states and to ultimately weaken the union .. the UK may be tempted to try to divide and rule in Europe, thus further weakening the continent."

2019 December 6

Brexit Trade Caution

The Guardian

EU member states will not be bounced into Boris Johnson's fast-track timetable to strike a trade deal after Brexit. Johnson promisess to take the UK out of the EU on January 31 and agree a trade deal with the bloc within 11 months, with no extension. EU leaders will move "swiftly" at a summit on December 13 but are disinclined to send Johnson a positive signal.


Brexit Diplomat Resigns


British diplomat Alexandra Hall Hall has resigned from her US embassy post as Brexit counsellor:
"I have been increasingly dismayed by the way in which our political leaders have tried to deliver Brexit, with reluctance to address honestly, even with our own citizens, the challenges and
trade-offs which Brexit involves."


Lucy in the Sky

The Times

Natalie Portman has cornered the market for roles that require the deeply affecting depiction of mental disintegration.
Her latest role is as Lucy Cola, a NASA astronaut newly returned from space, who is debriefed by staff psychologist Will Plimpton. Lucy has been changed utterly by her ten days aboard the ISS.
Plimpton can sense the change in her and pushes with questions. Lucy changes the subject and smiles, hiding a conflicted world of angst below. Lucy has been spiritually and physically unleashed, but everything goes wrong for her.
We see a widescreen world around her in glimpses and in aerial shots. Yet mostly we are stuck with Lucy and the limits of her character as she vainly kicks against the absurdities of daily life on Earth.
Portman is an old hand at this. We sympathise with Lucy. We live in her head. This is acting from a modern great.

AR Seen it — The movie is an excellent portrait of an astronaut careening from existential epiphany in low Earth orbit to crisis in a failed extramarital affair. Natalie Portman conveys the mood swings with superb conviction.

2019 December 5

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

House speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House of Representatives will begin drafting impeachment articles against US president Trump, pushing ahead with a rapid timetable that could set the stage for a vote before Christmas to charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors.

AR The sooner the better.


Brexit MEPs Quit

Financial Times

Four Brexit Party MEPs have resigned the party whip and urged party supporters to vote for the Conservatives in the UK general election next week. Party leader Nigel Farage said he was "disappointed" with the MEPs.

AR Conservatives have defeated his party at the cost of losing much of their own.


Quantum Entropy

Michael Brooks

The second law of thermodynamics says the entropy (roughly, disorder) of a closed system will always increase over time. This may explain time's arrow.
Ludwig Boltzmann defined entropy S in terms of the number W of equivalent ways you can rearrange the molecules in a closed system: S = kB ln W, where kB is Boltzmann's constant (about 14 yoctojoule per kelvin).
James Clerk Maxwell imagined a demon inside a box of gas. The gas molecules start off evenly mixed, unable to do useful work. He said the demon can reduce entropy in the box by separating hot molecules from cold ones. The demon uses information about the molecules and their movements, but with limited memory it discards information.
Charles Bennett showed that discarding information increases entropy. We can ask how information relates to the second law of thermodynamics.
Wojciech Zurek says that for finite systems it makes no sense to talk in terms of all possible arrangements of molecules. He aims to define entropy in terms of quantum entanglement. A quantum system is entangled with its environment. This sets the amount and the nature of the available information about its state and hence measures its entropy.
Anthony Aguirre is working on observational entropy, which reflects the amount of information that can be gained in a series of measurements on a quantum system. By Heisenberg uncertainty, measuring one property changes other properties, so the order of the measurements can change the observational entropy in a system.
Vlatko Vedral says quantum thermodynamics might shed new light on the arrow of time, the origin of life, and the expansion of the universe.

AR Zurek is right: Entanglement constrains W in the Boltzmann formula — but how?


⦿ Al Drago / The New York Times
NATO summit, London, 2019-12-04

Santa train, 2019-12-03

With Vikki Slade
⦿ MB
With Vikki Slade, 2019-11-09



2019 December 4

NATO @ 70

The New York Times

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg: "NATO is agile. NATO is active. NATO is adapting. NATO is the most effective alliance in history."


Germany in NATO

Spiegel Plus

Germany wants Europe to pay more of the NATO administrative budget as a gesture of goodwill. The United States now pays about 22% of the €2.1 billion budget. The German plan was to cut this to about 16%, but France vetoed it, not wishing to appease US president Trump.
NATO nations often use creative accounting in their annual defense spending reports. Berlin is reporting €800 million of its development aid budget for 2020. Adding a bill for government aircraft increases German defense spending from 1.39% to 1.42% of GDP.
German NATO representative Hans-Dieter Lucas: "There is no alternative to NATO for the foreseeable future when it comes to defending Europe."


Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

House Democrats say US president Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to help him in the 2020 presidential election. The House Intelligence Committee report concluded that he sought to undermine US democracy and endangered national security, then worked to conceal his actions from Congress. Another committee will decide whether to recommend impeachment.

Report on the Impeachment Inquiry


Is Liberal Democracy Gone?

William Davies

Liberal democracy depends on public confidence that some things are beyond politics. The media traditionally occupy a separate sphere to political parties and leaders. Now this distinction is gone.
A reckless strand now dominates the UK ruling party, thanks to the Brexit crisis and an opportunist prime minister. It claims that Westminster and Whitehall are betraying "the people" and pursuing their own political agenda.
A cornerstone of liberal politics is separation of powers. The US constitution was built on a tripartite system of government, separating executive, legislature, and judiciary. The dominance of one center of power is fatal for liberalism.
The domains of politics and media have collapsed into each other. The internet has dissolved the barriers between them. This new ecosystem has given rise to a new type of public figure.

2019 December 3

Science Denial

Naomi Oreskes

Climate change is here. People are being killed by floods and hurricanes. The blatant and shameless rejection of science by the president of the United States makes things worse.
Around the world, most people accept science. But we see resistance to scientific conclusions that people think threaten or conflict with their self-interest. Denial is specific.
A smart and well-funded campaign is persuading ordinary people that their self-interest is the same as that of corporate bosses. We are seeing the political strategy of manufacturing doubt. Once you can undermine the belief in facts and credible authority, you can say almost anything.
At first, scientists misdiagnosed this as a problem of scientific literacy and tried to explain the issue more clearly. But this is a problem of ideologically motivated misinformation. We need to expose the motivation of powerful corporations.


Black Hole Singularities

Steve Nadis

A Harvard University Black Hole Initiative (BHI) team probed the interiors of theoretical black holes to determine what kind of singularity lies inside.
A singularity is a place where general relativity (GR) breaks down. GR can break in different ways, leading to spacelike, timelike, or null singularities.
The BHI team analyzed a rotating black hole formed from the gravitational collapse of matter in an elementary scalar field.
Inside the black hole event horizon, charged stationary and rotating black holes have a second spherical surface of no return, called the inner horizon. The black holes the team studied form a null singularity at the inner horizon. Matter and radiation can pass through a null singularity for most of the black hole lifetime, until its spacetime curvature grows exponentially to infinity.
Once a particle approaches a spacelike singularity, the GR equations evolve only along the space direction, whereas a particle approaching a timelike singularity has a fixed position in space but still has a future. Outside observers cannot see spacelike singularities but can see timelike ones. The black holes the team examined always contain a spacelike central singularity.
The singularities in black hole calculations should disappear in a quantum theory of gravity.

2019 December 2

Another Brexit Crisis

Financial Times

If the Conservatives win the general election on December 12, the UK faces a tough and potentially humiliating trade negotiation with the EU.
By insisting that a deal must be done by December 2020, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has set an ambitious — some say impossible — timetable for talks. His critics say Britain is heading for another Brexit crisis if he is returned to Downing Street.
Johnson says the UK will leave the EU by the end of January and then negotiate a trade deal within 11 months. He claims a deal will be easy because London and Brussels are aligned on regulations, yet he wants to diverge from those regulations.
EU officials say they have only a few months to strike a deal, to give time to check it, translate it, and ratify it. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says the timetable is "exceptionally short" and "a first moment of truth" will come in summer 2020.
The UK would face an economic crisis if it left the EU in December 2020 without a trade deal and defaulted to WTO rules.


Climate Summit

New Scientist

The 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) is an annual meeting to discuss international action on climate change. Attendees are expected to submit their carbon plans in 2020 for the first time since 2015. The EU and China are expected to announce their plans at a joint summit next September.

2019 December 1

Atlas Shrugged

The Guardian

The Atlas Network is based in Arlington, Virginia. Members of the network cooperate in fighting for a vision of free markets and limited government. They call themselves the freedom movement.
Two UK Atlas partners, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Legatum Institute, advocated for a hard break from the EU and briefed Brexiteer MPs in the European Research Group (ERG).
IEA director Mark Littlewood: "Brexit provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to radically trim the size of the state and cut the regulatory burden."
Partners in the Atlas Network share an ideology of self-reliance, market freedom, and minimal tax and regulation. Atlas offers coaching in fundraising, messaging, and marketing.
The UK think-tank Initiative for Free Trade (IFT) worked with other Atlas partners to draft a 239-page legal text for a US-UK free trade deal that would radically liberalize the UK economy.
When MPs returned from the summer recess in 2018, they found the agenda seized by the ERG, with a vision for Brexit that involved walking away from an EU trade deal and reverting to WTO rules.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with such thinkers.


Eternal Beginning

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

In the beginning, spacetime exploded out of nothing and expanded, in an era known as inflation. This expansion accelerated exponentially, faster than the speed of light, for a very brief moment.
Inflation theory fits our cosmological data almost perfectly, but we still lack an exact equation to describe the energy that governs inflation. Many candidates for this energy equation imply spacetime may be eternal.
Not everyone loves this idea. But so far, no one has offered an alternative idea for why the contents of spacetime look the way they do that matches the data as gracefully as inflation does.



Charlie Wood

Most of the mass in the universe could come in the form of axions. The Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX) is sensitive enough to detect the most likely kind of axion and has already ruled out a swath of possible axion masses.
The axion could solve two enigmas at once. Its invisible presence would explain why the universe is more massive than it looks. It would also help us explain why the strong and weak nuclear forces are so different.
The strong nuclear force says the neutron obeys charge-parity (CP) symmetry: Inverting the charge of each of its three quarks and reflecting them all in a mirror leaves the neutron unchanged. But the weak nuclear force does not share this symmetry. This is the strong CP problem.
The strong CP problem boils down to the value of parameter θ in the equations for the strong force: θ = 0. Theorists recast θ as a field with a value that could settle to zero everywhere. The field has a particle — an axion.
Pierre Sikivie calculated that the axion might be something like a photon, but with just a wisp of mass, and could decay into two photons. Saturating a volume with a strong magnetic field would stimulate axion decay. A device tuned to resonate at the same wavelength as the axions could coax them to decay.
ADMX slowly adjusts its resonance and scans for axions. The experiment has scanned from 0.65 GHz to 0.8 GHz, ruling out axions masses between 2.7 μeV and 3.3 μeV, with wider ranges to come.

AR A mass in the μeV range is tiny.

Climate emergency

Hothouse Earth


Lib Dem

"I am worried that .. Boris
Johnson [can] lie again and
again and again, and it should
not be an issue in a general
election .. I do not believe he
is fit to be prime minister."
Chuka Umunna


Latest UK poll




2019 St Andrew's Day

The Age of Fire

Julian Cribb

Swathes of Siberia, Amazonia, Indonesia, Australia, and California are aflame. The advent of the age of fire is the bleakest warning yet. Human survival is at stake:
 Droughts, floods, vanishing lakes and glaciers, rising sea levels
 Extinctions and loss of fish, birds, corals, forests, mammals, and insects
 Advancing deserts and spreading oceanic dead zones
 Toxic emissions poisoning air, water, food, cities, and unborn babies
 Seepage of methane from oceans, tundra, swamps, and fossil fuels
 Gigatons of soil swept from arable lands into ocean depths
Fossil fuel finance (FFF) is paralyzing action on climate change, environmental loss, mass extinction, and toxic emissions. FFF controls governments and media not only in western democracies but also Russia, China, Brazil, India, and Saudi Arabia.
FFF investment is rebounding. Unless we take urgent action to terminate fossil fuel use and restore the planet to ecological health, the end is nigh.

2019 November 29

Climate Emergency

Jacob Aron

UK politics has been dominated by Brexit since June 2016. A far bigger issue is climate change. The next UK government will have an opportunity to show global leadership on the issue.
In 2018, the IPCC said emissions will need to fall 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero in 2050, to limit global warming to 1.5 K. The 2030 goal is still vitally important. The 2050 target is a legal requirement in the UK.
The UK was one of the first nations to industrialize and is responsible for a lot of the emissions that have got us into this mess. The UK can help lower the cost of green tech, as it has already done with solar and wind farms.
Before voting, voters should check what each of the parties says about climate change. New Scientist has put together a detailed analysis of their climate policies.

2019 November 28

Climate Emergency

Financial Times

The EU has declared a global climate emergency ahead of the COP25 climate summit next week.
In the European Parliament, MEPs voted in favor of declaring the emergency by 429 votes to 226.


Climate Emergency


We face a climate emergency. We call for urgent climate action.
Tipping points are big discontinuities in the climate system. The IPCC considers them likely if global warming exceeds 5 K above pre-industrial levels. Current national pledges are likely to result in at least 3 K of global warming.
Several cryosphere tipping points are dangerously close:
 The Amundsen Sea embayment of West Antarctica might have passed a tipping point. When this sector collapses, it could destabilize the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet and lead to about 3 m of sea-level rise on a timescale of centuries to millennia.
 The Wilkes Basin part of the East Antarctic ice sheet might be similarly unstable. It could add 3−4 m to sea level on timescales beyond a century.
 The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate. It could add a further 7 m to sea level over thousands of years. As the elevation of the ice sheet lowers, it melts further. The Greenland ice sheet could be doomed by 2030.
We face sea-level rises of around 10 m over thousands of years. At 1.5 K of warming, this could take 10 ky to unfold. Above 2 K, it could take less than 1 ky.
A cluster of abrupt shifts between 1.5 K and 2 K involve sea ice. At 2 K of warming, the Arctic region has a 10−35% chance of becoming largely ice-free in summer.
Biosphere tipping points can trigger abrupt carbon release:
 Deforestation and climate change are destabilizing the Amazon rainforest. An Amazon tipping point could lie between 40% and 20% deforestation. About 17% has been lost since 1970.
 Subarctic boreal forest is increasingly vulnerable. Warming has triggered mass death of insects and fires that have led to dieback of North American boreal forests.
 Arctic permafrost thawing could release 100 gigatons (Gt) of CO2. Amazon dieback could release another 90 Gt CO2 and boreal forests a further 110 Gt CO2.
The global emissions budget for a 50:50 chance of staying within 1.5 K of warming is only about 500 Gt CO2. Global CO2 emissions are still at more than 40 Gt per year.
A global cascade of tipping points could lead to a hothouse climate. The Earth system has been unstable before under relatively weak forcing. Now we are strongly forcing the system.
Atmospheric CO2 is at levels last seen around 4 My ago. It is heading toward levels last seen some 50 My ago, when temperatures were up to 14 K higher than today.
A global tipping point is an existential threat to civilization.

2019 November 27

Neue EU-Kommissionspräsidentin

Markus Becker

Ursula von der Leyen hat es geschafft: Das Europaparlament hat die CDU-Politikerin und ihre neue
EU-Kommission mit überraschend großer Mehrheit bestätigt. Ihre letzte Rede vor der Abstimmung:
"Wir sind bereit. Europa ist bereit. Gehen wir an die Arbeit!"


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Elke Schmitter

Das war eine WG: Hegel, Hölderlin und Schelling im Tübinger Stift im Wintersemester 1790/91 als Studenten in einem Schlafsaal vereint. Gemeinsam vertilgten die schwäbischen Jünglinge die billige Studentenkost, liefen durch "stinkende Gassen", saßen in "engen und dunklen Zimmern" und "niedrig drückenden Sälen", so beschrieb es der 20-jährige Hegel.
Aus diesem Milieu entstammt der deutsche Philosoph Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Der Aufklärer und Weltbürger Immanuel Kant, 1804 gestorben, ist der Spezialist für die ersten und letzten Fragen der menschlichen Erkenntnis. Hegel dachte mit derselben energischen Liebe für das Grundsätzliche über eine moderne politische Verfassung nach.
Hegels Geburtstag jährt sich im August 2020 zum 250. Mal. Seine labyrinthischen Satzgefüge und seine Meisterschaft in der windungsreichen Reflexion erfordern höchste Aufmerksamkeit und demütige Geduld, sie sind das eine Erbteil seiner pietistischen Erziehung im Stift. Das andere ist sein Widerwillen gegen religiösen Fundamentalismus jeder Art und gegen politische Despotie.
Anders als Kant, dessen Lebenswerk ganz ohne Ambivalenzen genutzt und gefeiert wird, gehört Hegel bis heute zu den Philosophen, die Verehrung wie Misstrauen auf sich ziehen.
Hegels letztes Werk, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, erschien 1820: Das Eigentumsrecht, die bürgerliche Sphäre als Vermittlung zwischen dem Einzelnen und dem Staat, die Verpflichtung des Staates zum Gemeinwohl, ja sogar die Schonung der natürlichen Ressourcen für die Zukunft — all dies wird von ihm zusammengedacht als ein humanes Zusammenspiel.
So ist der Weg frei für ein Hegel-Jahr, das den radikalen Demokraten und Kosmopoliten feiert.

AR Hegels Philosophie hat mir in den 1970er Jahren viel bedeutet.


2019 November 26

Trump vs US Justice


US federal judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before the House of Representatives. Jackson dismissed the US president Donald Trump's claim that McGahn was subject to blanket immunity: "Presidents are not kings."


Trump vs US Navy

Richard J. Danzig, Sean O'Keefe

President Trump directed his Navy secretary Richard Spencer to stop naval officers from disciplining a SEAL. Defense secretary Mark Esper confirmed the order and Spencer was fired.
The US military has established procedures for assuring good order and discipline. It is not an extension of the president's White House. Contamination from the president's approach is amplified when his judgment is largely shaped by TV commentators and his decision announced by tweet.
Spencer: "As secretary of the Navy, one of the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline throughout the ranks. I regard this as deadly serious business. The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries."


UK Election Advice

BBC News

Former Conservative deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine urges Conservative voters to back Liberal Democrat or independent candidates in the election: "I'm telling them to vote for what they believe in and what the Conservative party has stood for all my life and probably all theirs — and to put country first."


UK Public Spending

The Guardian

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn defends his manifesto spending pledges: "At the end of all of our proposals — every single one carried out — we will still be spending less on public services than France or Germany. We won't even be at their levels. It will move us into the middle ranking of the spending of industrial countries."
According to OECD data, France, Italy, Sweden, Greece, and Germany all dedicate more of their GDP to public spending on social goods than the UK at rates of between 25 and 31%. This includes investment in health, old age, incapacity-related benefits, family, work programs, unemployment, and housing.
The UK spends 21% of its GDP on public services. The US spend is 19%.

2019 November 25

King Trump

The New York Times

From the start, US president Trump has asserted broad, even monarchical, powers. He can use the extraordinary force of his office to strong-arm other countries into serving as his political pawns, he can run a protection racket with military alliances and pull out of international organizations and treaties, he can profit off the presidency. He says the US constitution gives him "the right to do whatever I want" — the words of a despot.


Brexit Mess

The Times

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair suggests British voters should vote tactically for a hung parliament.
He said Jeremy Corbyn's plan for a socialist revolution would "end badly" and refused to endorse him.
He said Boris Johnson has no chance — none — of agreeing a trade deal with the EU within a year.
He said a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020 is now probable. Neither main party deserved a majority.
He described UK politics as a dysfunctional "mess" and called for another referendum.
Blair: "Both parties want to win on the basis that whatever your dislike of what they're offering, the alternative is worse."


Germany Asleep

Dirk Kurbjuweit

Germans were once the most committed and passionate Europeans. But Germany is now focused on its own interests. Germans are ignoring what is at stake.
A battle is underway in Europe and America for the future of liberal democracy. Germany should be on the front lines of that fight. Instead, it is hunkering down, with no idea what to do next.
Berlin needs an accord with Rome. Italy is on the brink of falling into authoritarian populism. If Italy became an illiberal democracy like Hungary and Poland, the three of them could subvert the EU.
The NATO crisis shows Europe needs a new defense concept. Germany has depended on NATO for its security. At least it needs the UK on side.
The best response to authoritarian populists is a strong Europe rather than a weak Europe. The EU can be a bastion of liberal democracy.


Saturn's Rings


The Cassini spacecraft finally plunged into Saturn's swirling atmosphere in 2017. The end came after a Grand Finale of 22 dives between the planet and its rings. Data from the dives have let Cassini scientists calculate that the rings emerged only 100 million years ago.

AR No big surprise: As Brian Cox recently showed on BBC TV, the rings are delicate.

2019 November 24

Crazy Trump

Maureen Dowd

Donald Trump is a bareknuckle vulgarian, a grobian rodomont. He believes that paranoia can be useful. He sees the world as vicious and life as a battle for survival.
Trying to justify why he had ousted and smeared the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, he claimed she was "an Obama person" who had refused to hang his picture in the US embassy in Kyiv: "This was not an angel, this woman, OK?"
Vladimir Putin hit the jackpot with Trump. The former KGB spy has found a perfect sucker. As he said Wednesday in Moscow: "Thank God nobody is accusing us anymore of interfering in the US elections. Now they're accusing Ukraine."
Trump is blustering and calling Nancy Pelosi "totally incompetent" and "crazy as a bedbug" and tweeting: "I never in my wildest dreams thought my name would in any way be associated with the ugly word, Impeachment!"


UK Defense Cuts

The Sunday Times

UK defense chiefs are planning to cut the size and capability of UK armed forces. They disagree over plans to refocus military capability and cut the size of the army to below 65,000.
Army chiefs are pressing to mothball one of the new aircraft carriers or lease it to the Americans. Or deploy the carriers with US aircraft or let ships of NATO allies escort them. The chiefs say the job of the RAF will soon be done by drones. Navy chiefs will also press for RAF manpower cuts.
UK defense secretary Ben Wallace says the forces must adapt. Rather than hollow them out further, he will cut capabilities and do fewer things better. He tells the army to sort out recruitment or get no more kit, the navy to get its ships working, and the air force to fix a shortfall of pilots.
A 2015 defense review pledged to retain the ability to deploy a combat division in battle. The 2019 Conservative manifesto vows to maintain defense spending above 2% of GDP.

AR This is not the battle order of a standalone country. Scrap Trident and rent a pair of US boomers, scrap the army and sponsor a couple of German divisions, and keep the UK in the EU.


The Mass of the Neutrino

New Scientist

We have a new upper limit for the neutrino mass:  me) ≤ 1.1 eV
Neutrinos are a billion times more abundant than atoms, so even a tiny neutrino mass can make a big contribution to the mass in the universe.
An international team of researchers analyzed the decay of the hydrogen isotope tritium. The process emits an electron and an electron neutrino. The team estimated the mass of the neutrino with greater precision than ever before.
Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino experiment team member Christian Weinheimer: "We are extremely happy and proud."

AR The source article contained an absurd error.

Little England

Climate Central
Little England in 2050: Red areas likely to be flooded as sea level rises

Don't believe

Labour manifesto

Community work

The Times

Boris Johnson fights Jeremy
Corbyn tonight in a TV debate.
Conservatives are polling 42%,
with Labour 30%, but Johnson
leads Corbyn 41% to 22% on
who would be the better
prime minister.

Lewis Carroll [ed]

AR [smile]

New IR views of Titan


2019 November 23

Ukrainian States of America

Bret Stephens

Donald Trump is attempting to turn the United States into Ukraine by —
 Criminalizing political differences
 Using political office as a shield against criminal prosecution and as a vehicle for personal and
    familial enrichment
 Facilitating covert Russian interference
 Treating fictions as facts, propaganda as journalism, political opponents as criminals, political
    offices as business ventures, personal relatives as diplomatic representatives, legal fixers as
    shadow cabinet members, extortion as foreign policy, toadyism as patriotism, fellow citizens
    as human scum, mortal enemies as long-lost friends
 and then acting as if all this is perfectly normal.
The one way to stop this is to remove Trump from office.


Political Media

David Bromwich

Donald Trump became famous as a creature of the tabloids and celebrity magazines. Television facilitated his passage from tabloids to politics. Yet reporters are still covering him with an assiduous care they deny to more consequential subjects.
The duty of an honest reporter is to shun the fictive convenience of a narrative frame. A journalistic outlet may have a predictable slant, but prejudice is not a badge of honor. Trump is a corrupt businessman, but he is not a Russian agent.
The media today occupy the same world as politicians. It can be hard to decide who calls the tune.

AR The media made Trump and the media (print journalism) made Boris Johnson.


BBC Question Time

Owen Jones, Polly Toynbee, Martin Kettle, Katy Balls

As a highlight of the BBC general election coverage, the four main party leaders faced questions from a live audience in Sheffield.
 Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would be neutral as Labour implemented a referendum on Brexit. He aims to be an honest broker, to unite the country. He was calm and serious in getting across his best manifesto points. It was his best performance of the campaign.
 Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson got a mauling from the audience. She treats Labour as a greater menace than the Tories and Corbyn as a bigger threat than Brexit. Her attacks on Labour are dangerous when she needs their tactical votes. She floundered as she was criticized by Brexiteers and Remainers over her plan to revoke article 50 rather than push for a second referendum.
 SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon pulled off a solid performance. For clarity, agility, and intelligence, she swept the floor. She suggested Corbyn's attempts to play down the chance of a Labour government granting a second Scottish independence referendum in the near future should not be taken too seriously, which is what Conservatives in Scotland want to hear.
 Conservative leader Boris Johnson was finally held to account for his offensive comments about Muslim women, black people, and gay people. He looked surprised to be barracked on so many issues by an abrasive and impatient audience but remained calm.

AR Any idea for whom to vote?

2019 November 22

Trump Impeachment: Hill Testimony


Former NSC official Dr Fiona Hill testified against her former boss US president Donald Trump.
Hill: "[Gordon Sondland] was being involved in a domestic political errand. And we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged."
She said the idea that Ukraine meddled in the US election was dreamed up by Moscow to further Vladimir Putin's goal of stoking political division and damaging US prestige.
Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani put the idea into Trump's head, leading the president to direct foreign policy not in US interests but for his own political ends.
Hill: "I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked us in 2016."

AR Putin is truly an evil genius — alle Achtung!


Brexit Election: Appalling Choice

George Parker

Conservative leader Boris Johnson dragged the UK into the disastrous national humiliation of Brexit. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn offers a Marxist agenda of nationalization and wealth taxes.
City of London Corporation director of public relations Tony Halmos: "It's a ghastly dilemma. A lot of people are agonizing over the whole situation and wishing there wasn't an election."
Johnson thinks Brexit fatigue will nudge Remain voters to accept the need to move on. He often neglects to talk up Brexit on the campaign trail but says he needs to "get this thing done" as if it's a dismal chore. He says he will quickly agree a trade deal with the EU, Britain's potential will be unleashed, and it will all would be over by the end of 2020.
Corbyn vows to renegotiate Brexit and put a new deal to voters in a referendum.
Liberal Democrats offer a centrist platform and a firm promise to revoke Article 50.
Lib Dem candidate and former Labour MP Chuka Umunna: "We are the party of liberal, open, internationalist voters who embrace the future."

AR An LD−SNP−Labour coalition could stop Brexit — iff Labour dump Corbyn.


German Stability: Merkel Twilight

Timothy Garton Ash

Germany is the beating heart of Europe. As the good times pass and problems gather, Berlin is full of people who seek change. What is missing is a sense of urgency.
Most Germans probably still view the 14 years of Angela Merkel's chancellorship as good years. For 10 of the last 14 years, Merkel has presided over grand coalition governments, bringing together the CDU and the SPD. This has given continuous stable government, but it has not encouraged the robust political debate essential to a liberal democracy.
The entry of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia into the EU single market enabled German companies to grow at low cost. The euro has kept the German exchange rate competitive, the German export machine has powered ahead, and the German government has healthy public finances. Yet there is a growing drumbeat of anxiety.
The twilight of the Merkel era — Merkeldämmerung — is set to drag on until autumn 2021. I suggest this is not in the best interest of either Germany or Europe.

AR Germans need to navigate the wave of populism without losing liberal ideals.


Big Physics: New Colliders

Fabiola Gianotti

There have been times in the history of particle physics when theory has guided experiments. And there have been times when the experiments were discovering new particles and theory was trying to catch up. Now we need to make progress on the experimental side.
I consider supersymmetry a very nice theory. The fact that we haven't found any sign of it as yet may indicate two things. One, supersymmetry is wrong. Or, supersymmetry sits at an energy scale above where we are exploring now, or alternatively manifests itself through particles that are extremely light and extremely weakly interacting.
CERN is doing design studies and research and development for two projects. One is a linear collider up to 50 km long called CLIC, which will smash electrons against positrons to allow detailed studies of the Higgs boson and of physics up to very high energy scales. The other is the Future Circular Collider, which is a ring like the LHC but three times bigger.
The goal of scientific exploration is to advance our understanding of nature. Science is a driver of innovation, because our goals often require the development of new technologies. Science shows what humanity can do when we work together.

AR Can the EU afford CLIC/FCC? Perhaps a collaboration with China ...

2019 November 21

Trump Impeachment: Sondland Testimony

The New York Times

US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland has testified under oath that US president Trump and several top members of his administration were directly implicated in the Ukraine shakedown scheme at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
Sondland: "Was there a quid pro quo? [..] the answer is yes."
Trump defenders in Congress claim Rudy Giuliani, who has been bragging publicly since last spring that he was trying to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, was off on his own escapade that had nothing to do with the president.
Sondland: "We worked with Mr Giuliani because the president directed us to do so."
All the witnesses whose testimony has been damaging to Trump have given that testimony under oath. All of those who we are told would exonerate the president have so far refused to testify.
Sondland: "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."

AR In short, Trump has committed impeachable offenses.

2019 November 20

Brutal Brexit Reckoning

Financial Times

Boris Johnson thinks the hard part is already over. He says an election victory will let him "get Brexit done" and sees "absolutely no reason" why an agreement cannot be reached next year, whereas victory for Labour would mean more "dither and drift" on Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn says the Tory approach would "subject us to years of drawn out, bogged down negotiations" with Brussels on a future relationship, whereas a second referendum can deliver clarity sooner.
Marietje Schaake, a former member of the European Parliament international trade committee: "The UK is under pressure because of the ticking clock, but more because of the incredible promises that have been made about the benefits that will materialize. The reality is years of negotiation and difficult choices."

AR No deal by the end of 2020 means a hard exit — déjà vu all over again.


Information Ecosystem Collapse

Lydia Polgreen

We are currently facing the collapse of the information ecosystem.
This collapse is much like the environmental collapse on Earth. The digital revolution expanded human knowledge and wealth much as the industrial revolution did 150 years earlier. The price of the industrial revolution was biological ecosystem destruction on a planetary scale.
In 2018, Facebook, Google, and Amazon sucked up two-thirds of all digital advertising dollars.
Some news organizations ask their audience to pay for the journalism once subsidized by advertisers. Others have membership programs or rely on wealthy patrons. But this is not enough to sustain the provision of quality news.
The collapse of the information ecosystem has wreaked havoc on our political systems. It has undermined democratic elections, shaken basic trust in institutions, and left voters is free to choose their own facts. It threatens to destabilize our world order.
A world without facts is as dangerous for companies as it is for citizens.
I propose an experiment. Let the chief marketing officer of every major corporation set aside a substantial chunk of their marketing budget and devote it to quality news. Of the $130 billion for digital advertising, set $50 billion aside for news.
This is the best way to combat the information ecosystem crisis.

AR When voters lose access to facts, democracy is toast.


Clean Industrial Ovens

CNN Business

Heliogen, a clean energy startup backed by Bill Gates, has achieved a solar breakthrough aimed at saving the planet.
The company has found a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to reflect so much sunlight that it concentrates energy to temperatures above 1500 K. The solar oven can supply the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass, and so on, to replace fossil fuels in a corner of the economy so far untouched by the clean energy revolution.
Heliogen founder and CEO Bill Gross: "We are rolling out technology that can beat the price of fossil fuels and also not make the CO2 emissions. And that's really the holy grail."

AR Move over, Ted Turner — Bill Gates is the new Captain Planet.

2019 November 19

Israeli Settlements

The New York Times

The Trump administration says the United States does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. This is a political gift from Trump to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vows to push for the annexation of the West Bank.

AR Another outrage for antisemitic agitators who object to the settlements.



David Graeber

We live in a different economic universe than we did before the crash of 2008. Yet the language of public debate remains largely unchanged.
In the UK, Conservative governments discovered that a rhetoric of austerity played well with the British public, allowing them to win broad popular acceptance for policies designed to pare down what little remained of the British welfare state and redistribute resources toward the rich.
Modern money is credit, and banks can and do create money by making loans. Almost all of the money circulating in Britain was created by banks in this way. The main function of the Bank of England is to determine how much private banks can charge for the money they create.
An endless war about the nature of money makes it impossible to say for certain whether the money supply drives prices, or prices drive the money supply. This comes down to a choice between exogenous and endogenous theories of money.
The quantity theory of money is obviously wrong. Doubling the amount of gold in a country will have no effect on the price of cheese if you give all the gold to rich people and they just bury it in their yards. What actually matters is spending.
In England, in 1696, Sir Isaac Newton accepted that silver coins had to be devalued to prevent a deflationary collapse. John Locke argued that the government should be limited to guaranteeing the value of property and that tinkering would confuse investors and defraud creditors. Locke won, and the result was deflationary collapse.
The pattern was repeated itself again and again. The government adopts hard-money policies as a matter of principle, disaster ensues, the government quietly abandons hard-money policies, the economy recovers, and yet hard-money philosophy remains simple common sense.
David Hume introduced the notion that short-term shocks would create long-term benefits if they unleashed the self-regulating powers of the market. But the premise that markets will always right themselves in the end can only be tested if we can say when the end is.
There are plenty of ways for a modern state to fund itself. Many are considerably more efficient than income tax. But income tax is a deliberately intrusive and exasperating intrusion of the bureaucratic state that also allows its leaders to posture for small government.
Microeconomics was transformed from a tool for calculating how market actors make decisions to a general philosophy of human life. It was based on false assumptions, for example that humans are rational actors motivated exclusively by self-interest, who know exactly what they want, never change their minds, and have complete access to all relevant pricing information.
In short, we are expected to pretend that markets cannot be wrong. This answers the question of why no one saw the crash coming.

AR It seems economics is an ideology of oppression, propaganda for the haves.



The Times

Every year, 100 megatons of clean water is flushed down toilets, water we cannot afford to lose. Scientists have now developed a new toilet surfacing material that lubricates fecal deposits so that water usage can be reduced.
The Gates Foundation has invested $200 million into clean waste and sanitation projects. Bill Gates compares the transition to new toilets to the PC revolution. Responsible water management is a benchmark of civilization.

AR We should recycle all that fecal waste as fertilizer.

2019 November 18


The Guardian

The SPD long since abandoned its ambition to replace capitalism with socialism and became a Volkspartei. For over 50 years, the SPD and the CDU have dominated the political center.
ECB head Christine Lagarde suggests Germany should spend more and save less to boost the EZ. SPD leadership candidate Olaf Scholz is federal minister for finance and is committed to balanced budgets. Two opposing candidates call for massive investment and more borrowing.
The challenges of low growth, deindustrialization, migration, and the fallout from the crash have led to a crisis of the center. Germany's response carries a special weight within Europe.


European Monetary Union

Thomas Mayer

EMU has failed to reach completion. Banking union was supposed to complete it, but it still lacks a common deposit insurance.
I suggest creating a digital euro:
1 Introduce a bank deposit fully backed with central bank money. Let the ECB raise funds to cover the deposit by purchasing outstanding EZ government bonds.
2 Set up the secure deposit as digital central bank money that can be transferred from person to person or company to company using blockchain technology.
3 Issue the electronic euro via the ECB and back it by government bonds. To protect it from abuse, give it a digital watermark.



New Scientist

NASA researchers have made a map of the geology of Saturn's moon Titan.
Titan's atmosphere blocks visible light from reaching the surface, so the NASA Cassini spacecraft took radar and infrared data of the surface.
A JPL team sorted the data into six categories — lakes, craters, dunes, plains, hummocky terrain, and labyrinth — and made a map of Titan's surface.
The landscape type depends on latitude. The equator is mostly covered in dunes, with plains in the mid-latitudes, and lakes and labyrinths near the poles.
We can now work on the geological processes shaping the landscape.


How Galaxies Evolve

New Scientist

A massive simulation of the universe modeling tens of thousands of galaxies will run for 50 days across 30 000 computer processors in Durham and Paris.
The simulation includes the physics of both baryonic matter and dark matter. It also includes the physics of star and black hole formation, as well as conditions at the big bang.
By simulating what the universe looked like at different times, the researchers can test theories about how galaxies are related to the growth of black holes, and what happens when they die.

AR I saw in 1989 that simulation is the third way in science, between theory and experiment.

Boris in Red Square

The Conservative party has received donations from nine Russian donors, with suspected links to the Kremlin, says a
UK ISC report. Boris Johnson has blocked publication of the report until after the upcoming general election.
Leaked details tie the party to Russian oligarchs based in London, some with known ties to Russian security services.
There has been a surge in donations from prominent Russians to the Conservative party over the past year.


⦿ Adam Stevenson
Australian apocalypse


Railway Modeller

Mercury (dot at center)
on its latest solar transit


Vikki Slade
MDNP LD PPC Vikki Slade
says Revoke is right


2019 November 17

The Elephant in the Election

Hugo Dixon

Conservative and Labour candidates don't want to talk about Brexit. Even the Lib Dems and the Brexit Party are avoiding the elephant in the room.
Boris Johnson is embarrassed by the terrible deal he's done to get us out of the EU. He pretends he'll "get Brexit done" — but he's nowhere near agreeing a future trade agreement. He'd rather talk about anything else.
Labour has a convoluted policy that involves renegotiating the exit deal, deciding whether they like it, and then asking the people what they want in a referendum — hard to explain on a doorstep.
Lib Dems do want to talk about Brexit. But they are making a bad fist of it. They need to push harder to ram home their Remainer stance.
Nigel Farage is grabbing attention. But his dirty deal with Johnson has muddied his message. He should be saying the prime minister will turn the UK into a vassal state.
All the politicians are avoiding the election elephant. If Johnson wins, the media will have a lot to answer for.


From Brexit to Little England

Isaac Chotiner

Fintan O'Toole is concerned about a UK severed from the EU. Britain emerged from WW2 at once victorious and shrunken, the image of plucky heroism and imperial twilight.
O'Toole: "The power of Brexit is that it promised .. a liberation, not from Europe, but from the torment of an eternally unresolved conflict between superiority and inferiority."
The British empire had once helped stitch together English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish national identities. A united Europe offered a potential home for the smaller nations.
O'Toole: "There is an imperial nationalism and an anti-imperial nationalism; one sets out to dominate the world, the other to throw off such dominance. The incoherence of the new English nationalism that lies behind Brexit is that it wants to be both simultaneously."
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has struck a Brexit deal with the EU that could lead to a united Ireland and an independent Scotland. The Brexiteers may end up in little England.
O'Toole: "Without the EU as whipping boy and scapegoat, there will be no end of blame and no shortage of candidates .. everyone except the Brexiteers themselves."



Guy de Jonquières

Brexiteers laud Singapore as a model for the UK economy after it leaves the EU.
Singapore boasts a growth rate averaging over 7% annually since 1970, though it has slowed to a crawl of late, and its income per head at market rates is 50% higher than in the UK.
Singapore also has efficient modern infrastructure, good basic education, and a stable government. It is a major regional trading hub linked into cross-border supply chains. In contrast, Brexit threatens to impede UK business in the EU and to disrupt supply chains.
Singapore has more than twice as many civil servants per capita as the UK, with rules for almost everything. The tax take is 15% of GDP and its income tax top rate is 22%, but employees must also pay 20% and their employers 17% of their salaries into a state retirement and social security fund. Corporate tax is barely lower than in Britain.
Singapore is lightly regulated in only two ways. It has an open-door immigration policy and a labor market with minimal social protection.
Singapore is not the kind of model that Brexiteers dream of for Britain.

2019 November 16

Donald Trump, Corruption Fighter?

The New York Times

Republican defenders of Donald Trump say he withheld military aid to Ukraine because he wanted assurances that new Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky was serious about fighting corruption.
Sworn testimony in the House impeachment inquiry on Friday obliterated that defense.
US Embassy in Kiev official David Holmes said he overheard a telephone conversation in which US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland assured Trump that Zelensky would open investigations into the family of Joe Biden.
Marie Yovanovitch, the top US envoy to Ukraine until Trump yanked her back this spring, described how, as she sought to promote democracy and rule of law in Ukraine, Trump lawyer Rudi Giuliani worked with a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor to trash her reputation and force her out.
For Trump, her pursuit of anticorruption efforts was evidently a problem. His treatment of her and his conversation with Sondland do not square with any claim that Trump was intent on advancing the rule of law, as opposed to his own political interest.
After Trump first spoke with Zelensky to congratulate him on his electoral victory, Trump spoke not a word about corruption.

2019 November 15

Trump Britain

Evening Standard

US President Donald Trump will travel to the UK for a visit from Monday to Wednesday December 2−4 for a NATO meeting.

AR He will doubtless stick his thumb in the UK election pie.


OK Boomer

India Ross

The "OK Boomer" meme has come to symbolize a generational cultural fracture. Millennial and Gen Z cohorts feel increasingly let down by boomers who have left them with unaffordable housing and an impending climate apocalypse.
The meme crystalizes an agitation that has been brewing for a decade. The circumstances that gave rise to it may lead to its prophecy of intergenerational divorce being fulfilled. Outrage only puts boomers further out of touch.


Matrix Math and Neutrinos

Natalie Wolchover

Terence Tao is a math professor at UCLA and a Fields medalist. In August 2019, he read an email from a trio of physicists.
Stephen Parke, Xining Zhang, and Peter Denton said they had found a simple formula giving an unexpected relationship in linear algebra while studying neutrinos. They had seen that eigenvectors describing how neutrinos propagate through matter were equal to eigenvalues and realized that the relationship seemed to hold more generally.
Days later, the trio and Tao posted a paper online reporting the new formula. In another paper, the trio used the formula to streamline equations for neutrinos.
Eigenvectors and eigenvalues characterize linear transformations represented by matrices. The eigenvectors of a matrix are the vectors that keep the same direction when the matrix is applied. How much a matrix resizes its eigenvectors is given by the corresponding eigenvalue.
Eigenvectors and eigenvalues are independent, and normally they must be calculated separately. The new formula differs from existing methods by expressing each eigenvector of a Hermitian matrix in terms of its eigenvalues and those of a minor matrix formed by deleting a row and column.
Tao: "It's so pretty that I'm sure it will have some use in the near future. Right now, we just have one application."
That application is neutrinos. These come in three flavors — electron (νe), muon (νμ), tau (ντ) — and undergo quantum oscillations between the flavors on the fly. A matrix describes the oscillations. Its eigenvectors and eigenvalues give the probability that a muon neutrino will oscillate into an electron neutrino in flight and vice versa.
Differences in the behavior of neutrinos and antineutrinos may explain why matter dominates over antimatter in the universe. If these opposites had arisen in equal amounts in the Big Bang, they would have annihilated and left a cosmos empty of all but light.

AR I how math and physics fructify each other.

2019 November 14

End of Empire

Donald Tusk

The UK election takes place in four weeks. Things become irreversible only when people start to think so. Don't give up.
Brexiteers say they want to leave the EU to make the UK global again. You can hear in their voices a longing for the empire. But the reality is exactly the opposite. Only as part of a united Europe can the UK play a global role, and the world knows it.
I have heard the same in India, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and South Africa, that after its departure the UK will become an outsider, a second-rate player, while the main battlefield will be occupied by China, the United States, and the European Union.
"Why are they doing this?" — I was asked this regretful question everywhere I went. Brexit is the real end of the British empire.

On Poland Emmanuel Macron hopes Poles will change their position on Russia. I don't. Russia is not our strategic partner but our strategic problem.


Russian Money

Oliver Bullough

Someone in Downing Street calculated that it was less embarrassing to suppress the Intelligence and Security Committee report into Russian interference in the UK than it was to publish it.
Boris Johnson's refusal to allow voters to read the report made waves in parliament a week ago. The election campaign has offered a convenient distraction since then. Fifty pages of revelations about rich Russians funding political parties and associating with politicians, as well as Russian bots meddling in the referendum, were too much for him.
The report will only emerge once Britain has a new parliament. But the toxic relationship between the Russian and British elites needs exposure. They have been collaborating to the detriment of democracy and accountability for decades.
Back in 1956, English and Soviet banks saw an opportunity to undermine Cold War barriers. The USSR started banking its dollars in London. This generated a new revenue stream for a moribund City of London and gave the Soviets easy access to the global financial system.
London and its associated tax havens became a shady market for all comers. After the Soviet collapse, central bankers in Moscow used a Jersey shell company to earn profits while hiding government money from the IMF. London was the sewer for criminals to drain money out of Russia and spend it on luxury goods abroad.
Where the money went, the crime and murders followed. UK politicians have underestimated the risks that come with Russian money.

2019 November 13

Trump Impeachment

The New York Times

Public hearings begin: NYT correspondents provide live analysis and insights.


Rod the Mod's Railway

David Wilkes

Sir Rod Stewart, 74, has a model railway that took him 26 years to build. His 38 m × 7 m layout depicting a US city and its industrial hinterland in the 1940s contains hundreds of buildings.
Called Grand Street and Three Rivers City, it also features a railway station crossed by numerous bridges at rush hour. The trains, as well as hundreds of cars and trucks, are surrounded by lush landscape and lit in the colors of late afternoon sunshine.
Sir Rod told Railway Modeller magazine: "It's the landscape I like. Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn't be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean."
During his life on the road as a rock musician, Sir Rod used railway modeling as an escape from the pressures of touring. He would take kits, tools, and paints with him and book an extra hotel room as a workshop. He began to build the layout in 1993 in the attic of his new house in Los Angeles.
Sir Rod: "I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly — rugged skyscrapers, beaten-up warehouses, things that are very run down."
His passion was first kindled as a kid on a family holiday in Bognor Regis where he saw a railway layout in a model shop. He soon had his own model railway. But when he wanted a station for it, his dad bought him a guitar instead.
After nine #1 albums and 62 hit singles in the UK, Sir Rod's fortune now stands at £190 million.
Sir Rod: "When I take on something creative like this, I have to give it 110%."

AR For me, this is his greatest artistic work.

2019 November 12

Political Kitsch

Alexander Grau

Kitsch awakens strong, simple emotions. Political kitsch is similar. Its language or symbols are exaggerated, caricatured, pathetic, cute, sometimes hysterical, and aimed at mass media. Its rhetorical function is to emotionalize and to shut down argument.
Political kitsch arose in the bourgeois era. Totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union and the Third Reich used it. Today democracies use it too, to portray people with different views as emotionally deficient troublemakers. Such tactics harm democracy.


Philosophical Realism

Markus Gabriel

There are limits to what we can know about the universe. Knowing anything about the universe requires changing the universe. Running an experiment interferes with the target system.
Similar things apply to the human mind. I change my mental state by thinking about it. This is the paradox of self-consciousness.
A human being is the kind of animal that sometimes leads a life in light of the question of how it fits into the mindless universe. If you do that, you are engaged in the activity of being human.
Some say we might be unable to understand reality due to inherent limitations of the brain. The idea that reality is an illusion makes it hard to see how there can be objective knowledge of facts.
I would define objectivity as the feature of human minds to get things right or wrong. Nothing that we know from neuroscience or psychology should ever stand in the way of recognizing our capacity to know how reality is.
Continental philosophy typically just means postmodernism, which says our knowledge claims are just expressions of a will to power. Analytic philosophy usually just means philosophy, letting your arguments be falsified by better ones and better scientific evidence. I try to combine both.
NYU professor Crispin Wright came to Heidelberg for a series of seminars about skepticism. I started worrying about skepticism and came to work at NYU.
I believe we need to reconcile continental philosophy and analytic philosophy. The space in between is what I call New Realism. I claim we can know reality as it is, but the world does not exist. No one can bring all facts into view in one big world picture.
We should strive to implement universal value grounded in facts about the human being and not in social activism. My target is the Nietzschean tradition in moral philosophy that undermines the value of rationality. Nietzsche was a social activist.

AR Crispin Wright was my Oxford research supervisor from 1975 to 1977. I met neither Wright nor Gabriel in Heidelberg, but I did review Gabriel's 2015 book Warum es die Welt nicht gibt.

2019 Armistice Day

European Security

Heiko Maas

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall we have still not experienced the end of history. We can no longer take for granted that we in Germany live in peace and security. Germany must assume greater responsibility for peace and security in Europe.
President Macron was right to seek a strong and sovereign Europe. In future, we Europeans will have to assume far greater responsibility for our security. We are therefore working at full speed with France on a Europe that cooperates far more closely on security policy.
Without the United States, neither Germany nor Europe are in a position to protect themselves effectively. It would be irresponsible to pursue a foreign and security policy without Washington, and dangerous to decouple European security from American security. We want a strong and sovereign Europe as part of a strong NATO.
We must not divide Europeans on security matters. Germany will not tolerate special arrangements. Our neighbors in Poland and the Baltic can trust us to take their security needs as seriously as we take our own. A strong and sovereign Europe is a project on which nobody may be left behind.
We have to steer a firm course toward a strong Europe as a community project involving all Europeans. Germany must play a central role. If we do not assume this leadership role, nobody will.
We need a European Security Council to serve as the venue for pooling European foreign and security policy actions. The UK must be involved, even if it leaves the EU. And Washington must be a key partner.


European Security

Mateusz Morawiecki

NATO is the most important alliance in the world when it comes to preserving freedom and peace.
The United States has always supported Europe, and if it were not for US help, Europe would not have liberated itself from the German Nazi occupation. France is spending below the NATO target on defense. Certain aspects of NATO do not look as we wish: Reciprocity is lacking on the part of some European allies.
NATO is the primary source of security for Poland. Europe cannot pretend nothing has happened in Ukraine, Belarus, or Georgia. We favor cooperating with a peaceful and democratic Russia. President Macron does not feel the hot breath of the Russian bear on his neck.


European Security

Financial Times

The lack of debate about defense and security in the UK election campaign contrasts with discussions in Berlin, Paris, and other EU capitals about the US-European relationship and European search for strategic autonomy.
A Franco-German proposal to create a European Security Council alongside NATO would include the UK. The UK would continue to be closely aligned with continental Europe even after Brexit.

AR I have standardized on American English here because after Brexit Europeans will no longer wish to adapt to British ways but will still wish to be understood by Americans.


Climate Change

Eugene Linden

Science is a process of discovery. But in the case of climate, this deliberation has been accompanied by inertia born of bureaucratic caution and politics. This has diluted what should have been a sense of urgency and understated the looming costs of adaptation and dislocation.
In 1990, the IPCC said in its first report that climate change would arrive at a stately pace, that the methane-laden Arctic permafrost was not in danger of thawing, and that the Antarctic ice sheets were stable.
Last year, the IPCC detailed the difficulty of limiting warming to 1.5 K over the next 80 years and the grim consequences that will result even if that goal is met.
The discovery of sudden climate change came as a shock to scientists. A NAS report in 1975 concluded it would take centuries for the climate to change in a meaningful way. In 2002, the NAS acknowledged the reality of rapid climate change.
Studies of ice cores extracted from the Greenland ice sheet show there have been 25 rapid climate change events in the last glacial period.
Were the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica to melt, sea levels would rise by an estimated 70 m worldwide. They have been shedding ice far more rapidly than anticipated.
By 2014, an irreversible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet had begun. Computer modeling in 2016 indicated that its disintegration in concert with other melting could raise sea levels up to 2 m by 2100. The East Antarctic ice sheet may also be shedding its ice.
As the seas rise, they are also warming. A warmer ocean means more powerful storms and die-offs of marine life.
The melting of permafrost has also defied expectations. In 2005, the NCAR estimated that most of the upper layer of permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere could thaw by 2100, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The Trump administration has its own view of climate change: Bring it on!

2019 Remembrance Sunday

Poole Park Commemoration

Bournemouth Echo photos

AR I laid a wreath on behalf of Poole Rotarians.



Alun Anderson

Christof Koch presents a theory of consciousness that makes clear and testable predictions. It says computers can never be conscious, while many species of animal have sparks of consciousness. It suggests that meditators can experience the great void and that lovers can meld minds. And it suggests that consciousness has a function.
Giulio Tononi devised the integrated information theory of consciousness (IIT). IIT can be captured in five principles:
⦿ Consciousness is intrinsic, a private experience that exists for itself.
⦿ Experience is structured, containing many different things.
⦿ Each conscious experience is informative and differs from every other one.
⦿ Consciousness is integrated into one whole picture.
⦿ Consciousness is definite: you have one conscious experience at a time.
Tononi proposes these principles to test whether a mechanism can generate experience. He goes from experience to a defining physical theory of consciousness.
Koch says consciousness must have an internal structure that gives it causal power over itself. This implies that re-entrant processing is essential for consciousness. He says this is consistent with his search for consciousness in the brain.
IIT explains how meditation might lead to a profound sense of the void. Calming nervous activity does not lead to unconsciousness because the absence of presence is distinct from the presence of absence. One leads to unconsciousness, the other to pure consciousness.
Tonini builds on research in which software "animats" learned over generations to navigate mazes and led to the evolution of skilled animats that integrated information well. This suggests a survival advantage for consciousness.

The Feeling of Life Itself by Christof Koch

AR Elapsed time is key to consciousness.

Berlin Wall

⦿ A. Kaiser
Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 1989



2019 November 9

Europa muss auch die Sprache der Macht lernen

Ursula von der Leyen

Es sind Bilder der Freude und der Hoffnung, die wir in Erinnerung haben, wenn wir an den 9. November 1989 denken. Deutschland wird dies insbesondere den USA, dem VK und Frankreich immer danken. In diesen Dank möchte ich die NATO einschließen.
Europa ist für meine Kinder Heimat, aber Deutschland ebenso. Die Kraft der Idee Europa ist ungebrochen. Es gibt keine Herausforderung für Europa, die nicht mit den Stärken Europas bewältigt werden kann.
Auch der Brexit ist ein gutes Beispiel dafür, wie Europa aus der Krise neue Kraft schöpft. Ja, ausgerechnet der Brexit. Wir alle bedauern, dass unsere britischen Freunde die EU verlassen wollen. Der Brexit wurde nicht zum Start eines Zerfallsprozesses für die EU.
Europa ist heute attraktiver als wir selbst oft glauben: Rechtsstaat, Freiheit, Demokratie, Offenheit für viele Lebensentwürfe — das finden junge Menschen nicht in China oder Russland. Ich bin zutiefst davon überzeugt, dass Europa im digitalen Zeitalter eine attraktive Adresse bleiben wird. Auch gegenüber den USA und China.
30 Jahre nach der friedlichen Revolution können wir stolz sein auf den Mut, der den Osten und den Westen Europas wieder zusammengebracht hat.

AR Brexit ist noch keine geschlossene Sache. Das "demokratische Ereignis" muss erst geschehen.


2020 vision


A parliamentary inquiry by the
UK Intelligence and Security
Committee (ISC) says Moscow
has built a network of friends
in the British establishment.
ISC chair Dominic Grieve says
the PM is "sitting on" the final
report for no good reason.

AR I await the leak



Make love not Brexit

My Tory Years
New photos added


2019 November 8

Big Tech

Rana Foroohar

Apple became the world's first trillion-dollar market-cap company in 2018. The digital economy has a tendency to create superstars. Its concentration of power is a key reason for record levels of mergers and acquisitions.
The next big crisis will probably emanate from the corporate sector. For the past several years, the corporate bond market has been on a tear, with companies in advanced economies issuing a record amount of debt, to reach over $10 trillion in 2018.
The Silicon Valley giants are the most profitable and least regulated industry on the planet. They are also systemically crucial within the marketplace, holding assets that could topple the markets. Big tech is the new too-big-to-fail industry.
Much of the big tech response to the 2016 election crisis mirrored banking sector behavior in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. Big tech and big banks are also similar in the opacity and complexity of their operations.
The tendency to see share price as the one and only indicator of value is by no means limited to Wall Street. Maximization of shareholder value is part of the larger process of financialization. Markets have become the tail that wags the dog.
The large tech companies are run by business leaders who came of age when government was the enemy and profit maximization the way forward. Regulation of corporate behavior was seen as authoritarian.
American big tech has been at the forefront of globalization for decades. Tech firms are more able than any other type of company to move business abroad, because most of their wealth is in data, human capital, patents, and software, which are mobile.
As with the banks, systemic regulation may be the only way to rein in big tech.

Don't Be Evil: The case against big tech

AR As a former big tech employee, I absorbed the notion that such companies know better how to spend their money than governments. The companies are also good for their employees, suppliers and customers, and even eager to set a good example of responsible corporate citizenship. So cut them some slack.



Matthew Hutson

Kenneth Stanley is a pioneer in a field of artificial intelligence called neuroevolution.
His steppingstone principle goes beyond traditional evolutionary approaches. Instead of optimizing for a specific goal, it embraces creative exploration of all possible solutions. In this, it resembles biological evolution, where the tree of life has no overarching goal and allows exaptation.
Stanley used an approach called novelty search. In a neural network, the output of one layer of neurons gets passed to the next layer via connections that have weights. In neuroevolution, you start by assigning random values to the weights between layers.
At first, the network is not much good at anything. But you then create a set of random mutations and evaluate their abilities. You keep the best ones, produce more offspring, and repeat. Eventually, the algorithms get pretty good at something.
The DeepMind team has a growing interest in neuroevolution.

2019 November 7

European Danger

Emmanuel Macron

We are experiencing the brain death of NATO. You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision making between the United States and its NATO allies. You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake.
NATO only works if the guarantor of last resort functions as such. We should reassess the commitment of the United States. The EU must develop a military force and enhance its ability to act as one.
We see things that were unthinkable five years ago. We are wearing ourselves out over Brexit, Europe is finding it difficult to move forward, an American ally is turning its back on us. If we don't wake up, we in Europe risk losing control of our destiny.

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "I don't think that such sweeping judgements are necessary, even if we have problems and need to pull together."
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo: "I think NATO remains an important, critical, perhaps historically one of the most critical, strategic partnerships in all of recorded history."


European Identity

Jens Spahn

As German health minister, I am deeply concerned about the destabilization of our society. Throughout western societies, political debates have turned hostile. Internal cohesion is eroding, and international cooperation is diminishing.
In the UK and Germany, the most salient political issues are wealth redistribution and migration. Our strong welfare states cushion economic polarization. But uncontrolled immigration into a welfare state can reduce support for redistribution.
Our debates are about identity. Centrist parties can bridge our divisions. We Germans remain firmly committed to European integration. As a foundation, I propose weltoffener Patriotismus.


UK Spending Spree

Evening Standard

Conservative chancellor Sajid Javid and Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell have launched an election spending war. Javid promised £100 billion for roads, rail, broadband, and buildings over the next five years. McDonnell promised to find funding for £400 billion of new investment.

2019 November 6

UK Parliament Dissolved

BBC News

Parliament was dissolved in the early hours of this morning. The prime minister has informed the Queen at Buckingham Palace. She had opened parliament to great fanfare on 14 October.




UK-USA — Yukuza — collaboration on intelligence, for example within the Five Eyes community with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is the ongoing basis for Anglophone hegemony on planet Earth. Pax Yukuza is global, except in Asia where Russia and China resist it, in the Mideast region where violent chaos reigns, and in most of Africa where politics is more local.
Historically, Pax Yukuza builds on the remains of the British empire and continues the civilizing mission of the ancient Roman empire. So long as the UK remains in the European Union, Yukuza retains a line of civilizational continuity with the classical world. Outside the EU, the UK will begin to lose this link and become the marker of a fissure in the old empire, much as Constantinople broke free of Rome and formed the eastern Byzantine empire. The difference is that not London but Washington will be the capital of the breakaway empire. The new Rome will be Brussels or Berlin, depending on how the EU develops.
Yukuza, the new Byzantium, will face new forms of empire in Persia, Russia, and China. The fissure between Yukuza and the EU will grow, perhaps until it resembles the contested zone between Eastern and Western Christendom a thousand years ago. The British Isles will be on the front line, perhaps heavily militarized like eastern Prussia long ago. No good will come of this.

2019 November 5

Boo Trump

Ross Barkan

Donald Trump has come to dominate America's psyche as its most famous and polarizing president ever. There is no middle ground anymore.
For the millions who feel enraged and despondent over Trump's ennobling of white supremacists or his insidious environmental and immigration policies, trying to remain an informed citizen can amount to an exercise in psychic torture.
All that is left is protest. Trump deserves to be jeered and mocked wherever he goes.


Boo Johnson

Rachel Sylvester

Political parties have a smell that wafts around them during a campaign. It emanates from the attitude and tone of the leader, as well as the image and reputation of the candidates.
Boris Johnson hopes voters will be put off Jeremy Corbyn by the stink of antisemitism and the musty bouquet of Marxism. Johnson wants to pump out a fragrant hint of optimism. But Conservatives are giving out a noxious smell as they try to fight off Nigel Farage.
A senior Conservative: "There's definitely a whiff of toxic masculinity around at the top of the Tory party at the moment."
Johnson will lose half his voters if he keeps spraying himself with Eau de Farage.


Tactical Voting Advice

Naomi Smith

Best for Britain suggests voting Liberal Democrat, not Labour, in a number of marginal seats. Our mission is not to help any party. It is to stop Boris Johnson, stop the Brexit party, and stop Brexit.
We use multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP): Our MRP was done in the last couple of weeks, with a huge sample size of 46,000 voters. We will update it closer to polling day.


Cosmological Crisis

New Scientist

Measurements from the Planck space observatory have shown that the universe might be shaped like a sphere rather than a flat sheet. The Planck observatory (2009−2013) mapped the cosmic microwave background.
One set of observations showed more gravitational lensing than expected. A team calculated that this could be because the shape of the universe is different from what we thought.
All other cosmological data suggests the universe is flat. These Planck measurements say it could be closed. The extra lensing implies the presence of extra dark matter, which would pull the universe into a finite sphere instead of a flat sheet.
According to these observations, the universe is 41 times more likely to be closed than flat.

Planck evidence for a closed universe and a possible crisis for cosmology
Eleonora Di Valentino, Alessandro Melchiorri, Joseph Silk

The Planck Legacy 2018 release has confirmed the presence of an enhanced lensing amplitude in CMB power spectra compared with that predicted in the standard ΛCDM model.
A closed universe can provide a physical explanation for this effect. Positive curvature also removes a tension in the Planck dataset concerning the values of cosmological parameters derived at different angular scales.
The assumption of a flat universe may mask a cosmological crisis.

AR I always thought a closed model was neater.


Berlin Wall
A. Kaiser
Berlin Wall
November 1989



My Tory Years
Extended Edition


2019 November 4

UK Parliament: New Speaker

BBC News, 2025 UTC

MPs have elected Sir Lindsay Hoyle as the new Commons Speaker.

AR Farewell John Bercow.


Their Saddest Hour

Nicholas Kristof

Britain has gone nuts. People may look back and say: This was their saddest hour.
Brexit may cause the UK to fragment. Prime minister Boris Johnson is leading in the polls as he recklessly pursues a path that is damaging his country economically and risks dismembering it.
The new Brexit deal would leave Northern Ireland more integrated with Ireland than with the rest of Britain, and pressure for Irish unification will grow. In Scotland, a plurality now favor independence, and there are calls for a new referendum on independence. Even in Wales, some 40% of people favor separation if they can remain in the EU.
If the UK fragments and the economy continues to decline, it will be because of the foolhardy and mendacious campaign led by Johnson and his enablers.

AR What would Winston do? Revoke article 50.


East Germany

The Times

Polls suggest the AfD is now the most popular party across east Germany. In a string of recent state elections it has more than doubled its support with a campaign portraying east Germans as victims.
Linke senior Gregor Gysi: "The east Germans start with the assumption that they are the losers of history, because they were occupied by the Soviet Union .. The GDR was a closed society .. The east Germans felt themselves to be second-class Germans during reunification."



Kurt Starke

Frauen waren meist berufstätig in der DDR. Damit waren sie finanziell nicht auf den Partner angewiesen. Es gab eine totale Akzeptanz des vorehelichen Geschlechtsverkehrs.
Obwohl in der DDR viel früher geheiratet wurde, hatten fast alle schon zuvor Geschlechtsverkehr gehabt. Die Jungfernschaft war kein Kriterium für den Wert einer Frau.
Scheidungen waren einfacher als im Westen und gingen meistens von der Frau aus. Sie musste keine Beziehung des Geldes wegen aufrechterhalten.
Nacktheit wurde nicht kommerzialisiert. Daher blieb auch die Entfremdung vom eigenen Körper aus. Die Pornografie war verboten, mit der Begründung, sie widerspräche der Würde der Frau.
Zu hoffen ist, dass unsere Gesellschaft sich stärker in die Lage versetzt fühlt, das Sexuelle zu schützen und der Liebe eine Chance zu geben.


2019 November 3



AR I binge-watched all five episodes again last night. This is a powerful drama with real historical bite. In its impact and aftermath, the catastrophe was as near to a nuclear war as our civilized world should ever dare to go. Anyone who can watch this drama and say we still need to threaten to annihilate our enemies with the weapons of mass destruction fitted on top of our strategic ballistic missiles should be banished from civilized society.
We need a global push to eliminate these hideous weapons once and for all. Humans are surely civilized enough today to resolve their differences through political discussion — or at worst the calibrated use of finely targeted force — rather than open hostilities on the MAD scale that loomed during the Cold War. No human conflict in our present world is worth an aftermath on the scale resembling the one depicted in Chernobyl.

2019 November 2

Running SAP

Jennifer Morgan

Former SAP CEO Bill McDermott had promoted me to be North American boss. That was when we took over the first cloud companies.
At the end of September 2019, Bill asked me to come to California to talk to SAP founder and board chairman Hasso Plattner and him about the business. Hasso was very serious, almost solemn. And then he told me to run SAP with Christian Klein, who's only 39 years old.
I'm proud of how smoothly and professionally we delivered the handover. We do a tough job. This is only possible if you have fun and trust each other. And it sends the right signal to the company — that teamwork is required.
At SAP, we have to learn to become easier ourselves, otherwise we can't offer simple solutions. Investors will only get a better margin if we work on the client's success. We want to show we're listening. I want to talk to the one who has the most experience on a topic, not the most titles.
I will not tolerate a poisoned climate in the company. You need a healthy environment to be fast, to bring ideas, to solve problems. It's about trust and respect.
We have nearly 100,000 employees. You have to be motivated, enthusiastic. Leadership is about selflessness.

AR I wish her well. I could tell her about my happy years at SAP, but I probably won't.


Leaving Bluekip

Matthew Parris

Fifty years ago, I joined the Conservatives. Ten years later, I was the MP for my home constituency. Today I am leaving the Conservative Party.
Democracy is a force to be negotiated with. Responsible Tories are not there to lick the boots of the mob but to tell people sometimes unwelcome truths. I am a conservative, not a Liberal Democrat, but will unhesitatingly vote Lib Dem this time to defeat Tory zealotry over Europe.

AR I sympathize — see left.

2019 All Saints Day

War of Leave on Leave

BBC News, 1416 UTC

Brexit party leader Nigel Farage calls on Boris Johnson to ditch his Brexit deal and build a Leave alliance by November 14. Otherwise, "the Brexit party will be the only party standing in these elections that actually represents Brexit."

AR Bring it on, Nigel.


Making Britain Great Again

Donald Trump, talking with Nigel Farage

Donald Trump, talking with Nigel Farage On Jeremy Corbyn: "Corbyn would be so bad for your country, he'd be so bad. He'd take you in such a bad way. He'd take you to such bad places."
On the NHS: "I don't even know where [it] started with respect to us taking over your healthcare system. I mean it's so ridiculous. I think Corbyn put that out there, but to even think, it was never even mentioned, I never even heard it until I went over to visit with the Queen."
On Boris Johnson's deal with the EU: "We want to do trade with the UK but to be honest with you, this deal, under certain aspects of the deal, you can't do it. You can't trade. We can't make a trade deal with the UK. I think we can do many times the numbers we're doing right now, and certainly much bigger numbers than you're doing under the EU. Boris wants to be very careful with it. Under certain ways we would be precluded, which would be ridiculous."

AR The Donald can't help Boris win this way.


Cosmic History

Natalie Wolchover

The Big Bang began with a burst of cosmic inflation. As space expanded exponentially, pairs of particles popped up in the inflaton field. The ripples stretched out and became frozen into the field as twin peaks in its density. As the process continued, the peaks formed a fractal pattern.
Space is filled with correlated sets of objects arising from quantum particles that pop into existence during inflation. All these configurations of objects in the sky today encode the passage of time.
The inflaton field must have interacted with the gravitational field. When a pair of particles in the inflaton field is dragged apart by cosmic expansion, one of the pair can morph into two gravitons, yielding a triangular pattern. If a pair of primordial particles each decayed into two other particles, we get a four-point correlation.
A bootstrap approach from the laws of physics leads to an equation for the patterns of correlations. The equation gives us a deeper view of particle physics, in which the outcomes of particle collisions follow from the volume of a geometric shape called the amplituhedron.
Nima Arkani-Hamed and Juan Maldacena rethought cosmic inflation in de Sitter space. Its symmetries constrain the cosmic correlations from inflation. There is no time variable in the bootstrap equation, yet it generates a universe evolving in time.

AR Omniscience offers a more abstract view of time.

Aurora Borealis

⦿ Maciej Winiarczyk
Aurora Borealis over Loch Watten, Caithness, Scotland, 2019-10-26

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